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Tower tiff: Short notice of street closing to take down AT&T tower angers business owners

A close-up view of the AT&T tower in Duluth. (2013 file / News Tribune)

Duluth business owners on the 300 block of West First Street were greeted with unsettling news Tuesday. Ross Farrell, co-owner of Roscoe’s Pioneer Bar, arrived at work for the night bartending shift expecting a crowd ready to revel in Wild hockey. Instead, he was met with a hand-delivered letter on Viant Crane stationery saying the block will be closed to through traffic beginning next week. The steel AT&T communications tower at 314 W. First St. is coming down.

“We’re going to lose a ton of business for a month,” he said. “They could have just put the crane down the alley.”

A permit for work filed with the city is for May 14 through June 13.

Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council, spent part of Tuesday fielding concerns from the block’s business owners. The YMCA is one, in addition to CenturyLink offices, a public parking garage, the Oriental House Restaurant and more.

“It was short notice,” she said. “We just started working with the contractor to start notifying of the work going on and how to work through their concerns.”

Viant’s director of operations, Nick Minardi, wrote the letter to local businesses. He said the Superior company is a subcontractor on the job to Texoma Contracting Inc. of Oklahoma. Viant is supplying the 22-ton crane and its operation.

“We are working with the tenants on that block to resolve any issues and be good community partners,” he said. “Normally, that should be the job of the primary contractor. But our ties to the community make it important to ensure contact is made.”

The street will be closed to vehicle traffic, but open to pedestrians.

“All sidewalks will remain open,” Minardi said, though his letter said foot traffic on the south side of the street nearest the crane will be by escort.

He said Texoma will be providing covered walkways with access to the YMCA and other places.

“All pedestrian access will be unhindered to all buildings,” Minardi said.

Farrell and his co-owner, Curt Oberg, empathized with the operator of a parking garage next door to their bar. They said downtown workers can rent parking access for a month at a time. They know the owner.

“He’s not going to be happy,” Oberg said.

Truth be told, neither is Oberg. He’s concerned about alcohol deliveries.

“I’ve got a double stairwell (out back) that won’t handle kegs well at all,” he said, noting delivery people will have to manage their way through the construction.

Stokes said business owners she’s talked with “understand the work needs to be done, but they’re trying to work through the logistics and the timing of it.”

In a week, Viant will be using 15 semitrailers to haul the crane onto the block, where it will be assembled in one to two days, Minardi said.

He doesn’t expect the project will need the full month associated with the permit.