Our view: If only all could be as up as NessLast year was a year of transition for the city of Duluth, Mayor Don Ness said at a state-of-the-city-style, Chamber-sponsored luncheon Tuesday at the Kitchi Gammi Club.
Last year was a year of transition for the city of Duluth, Mayor Don Ness said at a state-of-the-city-style, Chamber-sponsored luncheon Tuesday at the Kitchi Gammi Club.
Of course, “Transition was a code word for trying to avoid disaster,” Ness said at the seventh annual January address. “2013 was the year we tried to buckle down, focus on the projects that we had in place as well as continue our efforts on problem-solving.”
The problems included continued recovery from the devastating June 2012 floods, a serious and legitimate threat to local government aid, the need to settle union contracts with city workers while avoiding the picket-line protests of the past, the school district referendum and, of course, the Last Place on Earth.
At the dawn of 2014, the Last Place on Earth is closed, its owner is behind bars and mobs of sometimes-unruly customers are no longer clogging downtown sidewalks; two school referendum questions are passed; city union contracts are settled; the Legislature not only restored local government aid but strengthened it with more money and more stability;
Duluth has rebuilt budget reserves, an upgraded credit rating and a 2014 budget that actually includes a small property tax decrease; and Duluthians, by and large, are recovered from the floods.
“We are on the road to recovery,” an upbeat mayor declared. “We are now coming to a close where, on the two-year anniversary of that flood, we can say that this community has overcome its greatest natural disaster in our city’s history.”
Also, Mayor Ness said, “If local government aid went away, the only place where you could have quality local services without being taxed out of your home would have been in the Twin Cities suburbs. That would have been bad for the state of Minnesota.”
If the word for 2013 was transition, Duluth’s word for 2014 is “accelerate,” Ness said.
“Somebody gave me the analogy early in my term that you can’t turn a big freighter ship just like that; it takes a long time to turn it. Now I feel like (Duluth is turned and) pointed in the right direction,” he said. “Now it’s time we accelerate. We know we’re on the right path. We know we’re doing good things. Now is the time to double down and accelerate and make those investments to further the path that we’re on.”
Challenges remain, including workforce development, the need for money for road repairs, the ongoing dispute between the city and the Fond-du-Luth Casino over revenue sharing, and a lack of housing options for everyone from executives to seniors to young professionals to low-income families.
But at the same time, Maurices is investing $50 million in a new downtown headquarters, AAR is hiring aircraft mechanics, a new transportation center is on the horizon and, with legislative help, both the historic Wade Stadium and historic NorShor Theatre are poised for a rebirth.
“For my lifetime in Duluth we’ve heard grumbles, the doubters, and the pessimistic voices dominating the conversations, especially the political conversations. A few years back it felt almost overwhelming. Even the most positive and pro-Duluth voices felt the need to qualify their optimistic thoughts. Or sometimes we would just argue about what problems (were) more pressing,” Ness said. “Today, it feels different.” Even the complaints received by City Hall have a more positive tone.
“We have a chance right now to make a historic mark on the future of Duluth,” he said. “From my perspective, now is the time. This is the moment. And we are the people who will define the next great era of this city. And if we do it right history will recognize it.”
If Ness sounds over-the-top optimistic, well, he is the mayor. But also, so what? And, good. Isn’t it high time more Duluthians focused on the positives rather than beating down every idea and convincing neighbors nothing can work? Isn’t it more than OK to be happy about and to celebrate the statewide and national awards and recognitions that suddenly seem to be pouring in from all over? With hard work and the power of positive thoughts, Duluthians, together, can bring about brighter days.
And if Ness sounds optimistic, listen to Chamber President David Ross: “The word is getting out. People are recognizing what is happening in Duluth. And Mayor Ness is a catalyst for much of that positive attention. People are noticing our upward movement. They are rediscovering our shining city on the hill. We have much to celebrate as a community. It’s time our community had a nice long positive run, and I believe, like Don does, that we are on the cusp of that.”