Denfeld News

July 27, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Individual efforts essential to whole project
By Sam Cook

Ask Pat Francisco why he’s putting so much of himself into Duluth’s Heritage Sports Center, and he will tell you a story.

“I can remember as a boy, my dad coming home from work at the steel mill,” says Francisco, a Duluth financial planner who grew up below Raleigh Street in West Duluth. “He’d go door to door through the business district asking for donations. I remember him coming home and counting the dollars out on our kitchen table. He’d say to my mom, ‘There, Julia — $13. If I can get another $42, we’ll have enough to get the jerseys.’ He was raising money for youth hockey players at Irving Rink.”

When Francisco tells you this story, over lunch at a crowded Lincoln Park/West End restaurant, you will see tears welling up in his eyes. If you know Francisco, you know this is not theater. He is passionate about family, about kids, about giving back to his community.

That’s why he — and a lot of other Duluth residents — are passionate about raising the final $4 million for the $15 million Duluth Heritage Sports Center. The center, which will serve many youth sports in addition to hockey, will be built on the site of the old Clyde Iron factory near 29th Avenue West and Michigan Street.

The center already has several key backers. Duluth businessman Alex Giuliani, who owns the former Clyde Iron site, has donated some of the buildings and land to the sports center. The Mitch and Elva Sill family has put up $1 million. So have Dave and Lisa Goldberg. The state of Minnesota is in for $2.9 million, the city of Duluth for $1.8 million, the Duluth school district for $1.2 million. And a number of private donors are in, donating $100 to $50,000. The Boys and Girls Club of Duluth and Superior will occupy part of the center.

I’m not a hockey guy. Where I grew up, it wasn’t an option. But I believe this sports center, along with Giuliani’s private development adjacent to it, will be an amazing force in redefining our city. I think it will help bring east and west together. I think it will do for the Lincoln Park/West End what Bayfront Festival Park has done for the harbor and what the Lakewalk has done for the waterfront.

The sports center will be home to Duluth’s high school hockey games. It will be a home for Duluth’s youth hockey teams. It will provide indoor training space for soccer, softball, track and baseball. It will recognize Duluth’s hockey heritage. Check the Web site, www.duluthheritagesportscenter.com.

Francisco didn’t want me to tell his story.

“This is not about me,” he says.

And he’s right. It’s much bigger than one person. But his story is important. It illustrates the emotional connection that many Duluth residents have experienced with this project. Those deep-rooted feelings have spurred a bunch of good people, who believe in our kids, to put their money on the table.

Much as a humble steelworker did 50 years ago.

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