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Duluth City Council lifts ban on liquor sales in Lakeside, Lester Park

Businesses on the 4400 block of Superior Street in the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth. On Monday, the Duluth City Council voted to repeal the ban on liquor sales in Lakeside and Lester Park, which have been outlawed since the neighborhoods were annexed by Duluth in 1893. (File photo / News Tribune)

City councilors said "yes" both to seawall improvements and to the repeal of a long-standing ban on the sale of liquor in Duluth's Lakeside and Lester Park neighborhoods Monday night.

Lakeside liquor

By a 5-3 vote, with At Large Councilor Elissa Hanson abstaining as a partner in a local brewery, the council approved a resolution repealing a ban on the issuance of liquor licenses in Duluth's two easternmost neighborhoods: Lakeside and Lester Park.

The prohibition dates back to the 1890s, when Duluth annexed the neighborhoods with the precondition that bars and taverns would not be allowed to open up shop in the quiet residential area. Language excluding such businesses from Lakeside and Lester Park actually was written into state law.

Previous attempts to lift the restrictions on alcohol sales have been defeated, but a nonbinding referendum vote in November indicated that a majority of Duluthians now favor ending the prohibition. In that referendum, 67 percent of voters citywide supported removing the ban.

The margin was less convincing in the two directly affected neighborhoods, with just 53 percent of voters advocating for an end to the ban.

But 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress noted that a narrow majority is still a majority and observed that a majority of voters in every single precinct of the city supported lifting the ban.

Recalling the hundreds of people he spoke to about the issue during his campaign, 1st District Councilor Gary Anderson, who represents Lakeside and Lester Park, described feeling torn.

"There are lots of people who live in, have moved to and have stayed in the Lakeside neighborhood because they feel that it's special, and part of that special quality is that there's not been liquor bought and sold in this neighborhood," he said.

Anderson also acknowledged an opposite school of thought, saying: "I realize that there are those who believe that this resolution is outdated, that it contributes to this east-west divide, and I can see that point of view. But at the same time, I really want to be respectful to all of those people in Lakeside who I spoke to last year."

During his campaign, Anderson said he had pledged to support ending the ban, only if a "significant majority" of the neighborhood's residents sought to overturn it. To his mind, 53 percent didn't rise to that threshold, and therefore he said he could not support the change

Taking such a "neighborhood-centric" approach to the issue didn't sit well with 3rd District Councilor Em Westerlund.

"Those who live in Lakeside should not be the only ones who should make decisions about Lakeside, because many of us recreate there, dine there, go running on the Lakewalk there, visit friends there or do a variety of things there," she argued.

"I think that encouraging people to take the big view of what our entire city is saying is some sage advice," Westerlund said.

At the City Council's request, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a special bill during this past session that would remove any unique restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Lakeside and Lester Park. Gov. Mark Dayton signed it into law on June 1. However, the legislation is predicated on the Duluth City Council officially signing off on the change before it can take effect.

The resolution passed Monday accepts that repeal, opening the door for liquor licenses to be issued in Lakeside and Lester Park for the first time.

Voting for the repeal were Councilors Westerlund, Sipress, Zack Filipovich, Noah Hobbs and Barb Russ.

Voting against the repeal were Councilors Anderson, Jay Fosle and Howie Hanson.

Seawalls

By a unanimous vote, the council authorized the city to spend up to $434,495 on designing a plan to repair and/or replace failing seawalls at Minnesota Slip and along the waterfront of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, as well as the Great Lakes Aquarium.

By resolution, the council awarded a contract for the work to AMI Consulting Engineers P.A.

However, restoring the seawalls will require a much larger investment, likely in the range of $8 million to $12 million, said David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer.

At an agenda session meeting last Thursday, Hanson had questioned the wisdom of making major investments in Minnesota Slip, which is home to the William A. Irvin, the Vista Fleet and several charter fishing operations. He suggested it may be more cost-effective and advantageous to simply fill in the slip, as past Mayor Don Ness had proposed.

But on Monday he offered assurances that there will still be ample opportunity to discuss the city's long-term vision for the area.

"I was pleased to hear that we are going to have a committee meeting in regard to the master plan, if you will, with regard to the waterfront and the city's priorities there," Hanson said.

He acknowledged the immediate need to shore up the seawalls for the sake of maintaining public safety.

"These are fixes that are necessary and timely and that certainly deserve our full support as we move forward," Hanson said.