July 27, 2007
Individual efforts essential to whole
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.