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Pricetag set at $1.8 million for proposed Lakewalk expansion

The city could expect to spend about $1.8 million to build a paved, multi-use, 10-foot-wide recreation path between 20th Avenue East and 25th Avenue East consistent with the look and feel of the existing Lakewalk, according to Tom Pfeffer, a senior project manager for the city of Duluth’s engineering department.

Those figures include the projected cost of acquiring needed property and easements for the recreational path plus anticipated construction expenses. Pfeffer broke down the project into two parts: including about $1.2 million for a segment running along lakeshore fronting Beacon Point and another $1.8 million for a segment between the Ledges townhome development and the waterfront.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness said he served on the Duluth City Council when plans for the two upscale housing developments, including a Lakewalk extension, first emerged.

Ness said he supported the proposal’s use new taxes generated by the developments to pay the cost of the pathway extension at the time.

But, when he was elected mayor, Ness found himself thrust into a $6 million budget crisis, resulting from cuts in state aid and financial losses resulting from the city’s poorly secured investments in subprime mortgages at the time. Faced with steep cuts and layoffs, the mayor decided to put the tax revenues from the developments to other uses.

The mayor has supported a cheaper work-around approach to pushing the Lakewalk slightly inland on its path toward Brighton Beach on the east end of town.

Ness said that if the council wishes to make the lakeside route a higher priority, funds will need to be diverted from other city uses or tax revenues will need to be increased.

“We need to recognize the dollars we spend here are dollars that won’t be able to be spent somewhere else,” he said.

“I will respect any decision this council makes, but for me personally, looking at the cost and the two- to three-block stretch of trail next to a good, viable alternative, I think there are better uses for those dollars,” Ness said.

City Councilor Joel Sipress suggested the city also explore the possibility of providing pedestrian public access to the lakeshore property in question as a less expensive option to a multi-use paved trail for bikes and other wheeled vehicles.

Duluth’s Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery said the city certainly could provide more cost estimates on those kinds of options, if desired.