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Our view: Mayor’s bayfront overhaul is back

The annual headlines have been inevitable, but they haven’t been able to be written yet this year. The notoriously malfunctioning little blue pedestrian bridge linking Canal Park with the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center hasn’t broken down.

As remarkable as its functionality has been, even more remarkable has been the way it has kept attention from Mayor Don Ness’ grand plan for a massive makeover of Duluth’s prized bayfront area.

Remember that? Ness unveiled the plan last summer to eliminate the problematic bridge, to safely seal away pollutants in the slip where the William A. Irvin ore-boat museum is floating, and to address the problem of crumbling seawalls. In addition Ness hoped the plan would improve pedestrian flow in the oft-congested, tourist-focused area.

But because the plan included completely filling in the Irvin’s slip for parking, creating a new breakwater near the Aerial Lift Bridge, moving the docks for commercial fishing boats and more, it wasn’t exactly embraced by all.

But that doesn’t mean the plan went away.

“The problems there remain,” Ness said at a breakfast forum last week hosted by the Greater Downtown Council. “We have introduced the idea and continue to work behind the scenes with the various stakeholders and interested parties, and it is my hope that we can move yet this summer to kind of roll out a version 2.0 of our vision. There have been a lot of improvements that we’ve made from that first plan, but we want to make sure that the second version is something the stakeholders have bought into and support.”

Ness didn’t unveil any updated plans or other details. Last summer the bayfront-area fixes were estimated to cost about

$12.2 million. They could come at the same time as a new Northwest Passage skywalk over Interstate 35 to the DECC is built and while the Pier B hotel project is developed.

“My timing on this is if we can get the private parties to buy in and see the potential of this vision that we roll this out in early 2015,” Ness said.

Then the city could lobby for bonding money from the 2016 Legislature to help pay to make the vision reality, Ness said. Federal money also should be available because the cleanup of the Irvin’s slip is part of Great Lakes restoration efforts.

Ness was right last summer when he said something will happen and that change is coming to the bayfront and Canal Park area, a district responsible for so many jobs and for generating so much revenue for the city and our economy. Crumbling seawalls, a polluted slip, and a troublesome pedestrian bridge will see to it. They’re challenges that weren’t just going to go away, no matter how well the pedestrian bridge is working.

So when Ness’ updated solution — his “version 2.0” — comes out this summer, it deserves consideration as serious as the problems it seeks to address. More than $12 million is a whole lot to spend without broad public input. So let’s be sure to offer it.