BUZZ Blog: How the NorShor purchase ties to the mayor's political future
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
The big picture
I was out sick yesterday so I didn't get a chance to post links to a few NorShor documents that were released by the city late Monday.
In layman's terms:
* A structural and environmental inspection done on the buildings, that said they were in "fair to good condition" with no "conditions that would cause concerns for structural problems that would require immediate attention." (so take that, Mr. Anonymous). The bad news: the cost to weatherproof and bring the buildings up to "code compliance" starts at $2.5 million and could "escalate with the passage of time, discovery of new conditions and changes in scope."
* A note on the "visual" environmental assessment of the buildings, which includes an estimate of $22,900 to get rid of the asbestos (with the catch being that the firm saying that "not all areas were accessible during the visual assessment); lead paint is there, but it was "in good condition" and "would not require additional attention at present time"; No mold was found in the occupied areas, but it was found in the basement. Needs more studying and the cost to perform an assessment: $2,700. Overall, said the firm, "overall environmental condition is good," but additional sampling and testing will be necessary before renovations.
As an aside, many of the six city councilors who voted in favor of buying the NorShor cited those documents as reason for their votes.
* Here's the purchase agreement, which includes on the addendum that the property is to be used for the benefit of the "Duluth 'Arts' Community" and the "Duluth Playhouse organization at their option."
* And finally, here's an interesting Q&A, where the city rounded up all of the questions asked by the council and attempted to answer them. Included: where the skywalk money will come from (there are some controversial answers here, including that it MSA money could be used -- money that typically goes to streets, bonding, and even a suggestion to tap the Community Investment Trust fund), the timeline for the NorShor renovation and skywalk renovation; and if there's serious roof repair that will be needed in the near future (the answer: yes).
And so that's all there for you, entered into the blog record for eternity.
But let's take a moment and focus on the big picture, as the city administration and Mayor Ness implored the council to do on Monday.
Let's assume that the city is able to get private dollars and state bonding dollars to renovate the theater, and no significant city/DEDA dollars are used in the renovation/upkeep (big ifs, imho). Let's assume that the skywalks are built all the way to the Medical District by 2014, as the timeline suggests will happen, and no serious problems or delays are incurred. Let's assume that the FDL Band sees this purchase as the good faith effort they've been looking for, and continues the casino revenue sharing agreement with the city as it's been and without a fight.
Let's also assume that Google does bring its high speed fiber here, and that the mayor is able to repair 100 miles of city streets in five years. Let's also assume the unemployment rate in Duluth stays below the state average.
There are a lot of ifs there, but you know what I see if this all happens: nothing to complain about. I see a much-improved city, along with a mayor who has proven his critics absolutely wrong, would be uber-popular, would never be seriously opposed in any re-election and could look to run for and win a state or federal office.
The problem I've always had with the "Ness just wants Oberstar's seat!" cries is that prior to 2007 he hadn't really done anything to deserve being a congressman, and thus had nothing to campaign on. Being a city councilor isn't enough to launch yourself into being a congressman. Being a mayor isn't enough, either. But being a successful mayor? Being one that can say he repaired the city's jagged streets, brought Google to town, got rid of the eye-sore strip club and renovated it, balanced the city's budget all while unemployment rates were lower than state averages -- that's the kind of stuff you can bring to a stump speech that gets supporters into frothing-mouth cheers.
Did Ness take the NorShor risk for votes? Of course not. He did it because he thought it was the right thing to do for the city. But by taking that risk, perhaps more than any endeavor he has taken on, he has tied the city's success to his own.
The flipside is that if the NorShor renovation doesn't work out and becomes the taxpayer boondoggle that some fear it will be ... well, he can always point to his streets plan.