City Council struggles with plan for former Park Point fire hallAlthough it didn’t make Monday’s agenda, at least a few Duluth City Councilors were fired up to talk about the fate of a piece of Park Point property the city is fixing to put up for auction Dec. 14.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Although it didn’t make Monday’s agenda, at least a few Duluth City Councilors were fired up to talk about the fate of a piece of Park Point property the city is fixing to put up for auction Dec. 14.
Councilor Sharla Gardner said she was deeply concerned about plans to sell Duluth Fire Hall No. 5, citing the building’s historic value, as well as public-safety concerns about Park Point having to rely entirely on a downtown station for protection.
“For this to go on the public block, I have a huge problem with that,” she said.
Gardner asked city administration to postpone the auction to allow time for talks that would involve city staff, concerned residents, members of the Heritage Preservation Commission and herself. Gardner represents Duluth’s 3rd District, which includes Park Point.
While David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, said he has no plans to push off the auction, he said he remains open to hearing cost-effective ideas for the property, which has fallen into serious disrepair and hasn’t been used since July.
“I don’t think the city should continue to carry an ongoing liability like this without a clear plan,” he said. Absent a viable alternative, Montgomery said it makes sense to sell the valuable beachfront lot and see it put to use as residential property that would return to local tax rolls.
Montgomery said the city made no secret of its plans to likely sell the property, after a comprehensive review of firefighting operations recommended the closure of the one-person fire hall earlier this year. He noted that the City Council still will have an opportunity to weigh in on the auction results. Any sale of the property must be approved by the Duluth City Council.
That leaves councilors in a tough spot, according to Gardner.
“Then, the only thing we can do is refuse the sale if we don’t like it,” she said. “It makes us look like the bad guy who pulls the rug out on somebody.”
Council President Dan Hartman said the situation with the fire hall highlights a flaw in the process being used to sell off unneeded city property. He said that process should involve the City Council on the front end by asking councilors to approve a resolution of intent to sell before any city-owned property is put up for auction.
Hartman also expressed concern that the city has lacked the staff to properly document many of the significant buildings in town that are worthy of being placed on the historic register or designated as local landmarks. He contends Duluth Fire Hall No. 5 would fall into that category, although the building has been afforded no historical protections to date.
Gardner said the fire hall, which was built in 1930, was designed by the same architect picked by St. Luke’s hospital and the Miller-Dwan Medical Center. She said it was designed to fit with the character of neighboring homes in the residential area.