Our view: Time may be ripe for bayfront fixesThe timing actually may never be better to rethink and to remake Duluth’s harborfront.
First things first: “It’s not tens of millions of dollars,” Duluth Mayor Don Ness said Wednesday in response to an editorial in the News Tribune questioning the potentially high price of pulling off an overhaul of the city’s prized waterfront.
But the city is facing as much as $12.2 million of urgent repairs in the bayfront and Canal Park areas, the mayor said a week after unveiling a vision for that overhaul during a meeting of the Canal Park Business Association. So even though spending money down there hasn’t been weighing on the minds of many Duluthians it is something they ought to be considering. And start discussing.
The timing actually may never be better to rethink and to remake Duluth’s harborfront. Just consider all the factors coming to a head at this particular moment. It’s almost spooky.
There’s the polluted slip in which the William A. Irvin ore-boat museum is floating. A 2004 study offered the city alternatives for cleaning up the slip bed, ranging from about $5 million to remove the top two feet of pollutants and safely seal away the rest to about $7 million to remove all contaminants. The mayor’s vision is to completely fill the slip, safely sealing away pollutants while creating new land for redevelopment and for badly needed parking. His option would cost only $1.5 million to
$2 million, the money probably coming from federal sources. That’s because the slip is part of an “area of concern” that’s part of a national Great Lakes cleanup initiative. If the slip is filled in, the Irvin could be moved west of Bayfront Festival Park where it would be more visible, the mayor said, and charter fishing boats docked in the slip could be moved to a new marina closer to the Aerial Lift Bridge that could be created with a new $500,000 breakwall.
There’s also the crumbling seawall at the outer end of the Irvin slip and around the backside of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The city has been patching the wall for years but a permanent fix becomes more critical with every wave that pulls away more of the wall, increasing the chances of sinkholes or collapse. A permanent fix is estimated at $2 million to $3 million. And the city can’t wait much longer, Ness said.
Then there’s the notorious blue pedestrian bridge that connects Canal Park to the DECC and Bayfront. Finally fixing it for good would cost $3.2 million, according to an estimate. But filling in the slip would allow the city to simply remove the troublesome bridge instead. And that could remove the city from a potential liability issue, too. This summer the city received a letter from one of the bridge’s original designers pointing out the bridge isn’t seating properly, resulting in too much stress on the cables. Now that the city knows, it’s obligated to take action.
In addition, a new Skywalk is being built soon over Interstate 35, keeping downtown connected to the DECC; the Pier B hotel, condo and restaurant project at the site of the idled Lafarge Cement Terminal, across a slip from the Bayfront Festival Park stage, is on track and is about to happen; and this summer’s Tall Ships Festival showed the importance of better moving visitors between Bayfront Festival Park and Canal Park. Those things, too, make now a good time to talk about the future of Duluth’s bayfront, Ness said.
“It’s a big change. It’s a big vision. We recognize that,” the mayor said in a meeting yesterday with members of the News Tribune editorial board. “We have some big issues down there. (So) let’s talk about it. I know what finally happens probably won’t look exactly like this.”
But something will happen in an area responsible for so many jobs and for generating so much revenue for the city and our business community. A crumbling seawall, polluted slip and pending lawsuit of a pedestrian bridge will see to it. So while most Duluthians may not have seen this coming, all Duluthians can be part of a conversation now to determine what comes next.