Contract won't address religious symbols

A deal struck Wednesday between Duluth and Salvation Army attorneys makes it unlikely that the city will try to prohibit or limit religious symbols at the planned Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

A deal struck Wednesday between Duluth and Salvation Army attorneys makes it unlikely that the city will try to prohibit or limit religious symbols at the planned Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

The city was advised two weeks ago by outside legal counsel to push for the restrictions to insulate itself from a lawsuit. The situation conjured images of the City Hall Ten Commandments controversy from a few years ago.

However, the restrictions also were declared a deal-breaker by the Salvation Army and threatened to torpedo the $50 million West Duluth project. Organizers said it would unfairly restrict their religious freedoms and identity.

"The Salvation Army said they won't agree to it, and I have not been instructed by anybody to put the language in there [the development and use agreement]," City Attorney Bryan Brown said Wednesday. "Usually, you don't ask for a contract to be approved if people are not going to agree to it."

On Monday, the City Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement as well as a $7.4 million contribution of taxpayer money and the sale of five acres of Wheeler Field for $377,580.


When city councilors meet today for an agenda session, they could ask that the contract be amended to include the restrictions. However, a simple majority of councilors has expressed approval with what they've seen to this point.

"In general, for me, it's probably not going to be a huge issue," Council President Roger Reinert said. "We've done public meetings for years at Holy Family Church in Lincoln Park, and we use churches and synagogues for voting."

Salvation Army officials have promised that they won't turn anyone away who doesn't agree with their beliefs; and Mayor Herb Bergson has said he would rather take the Salvation Army at its word.

The constitutional issues popped up earlier this year, soon after the Salvation Army released artist renderings for the $20 million facility on Grand Avenue. It included a large cross and steeple. Many Duluthians responded by saying they oppose taxpayer money going to a building that looks like a church.

Brown's office received 12 recommendations from a Minneapolis law firm based on constitutional law and court precedent. The opinion also suggested several other changes, such as the city retaining sole control over its recreational programming and regular inspections to make sure the city's money isn't going toward religious activities.

The Salvation Army released its own legal opinion this week from a University of Minnesota professor who specializes in constitutional law and religious freedom.

"We believe the city's legal opinion was way over-broad," said Salvation Army attorney Doug Franzen. "Our own counsel showed that these are the proper boundaries, and these are where we draw the bright lines. We are legally correct."

On Tuesday afternoon, Brown e-mailed councilors and told them he reached an agreement with Franzen. Brown said the new contract covers everything but:


* Regulation of religious symbols.

* The city's say in the building's name.

* The city's say in the building's design.

* The possibility of restricted visibility of religious symbols from the entrance used by the city.

* Financial analysis --because it already has been done.

The Salvation Army has said its $40 million investment in the facility, including $20 million for an operations and maintenance endowment, would be assured if the City Council comes through. Another $10 million for the project is expected to come from the taxpayer investment and donors.

By the proposed contract, the city money will go only to pay for recreational purposes. Councilors have expressed approval of the 85,000-square-foot building's interior design, because it segregates the recreational areas from the community rooms and chapel with a road-sized hallway.

Still, the project could be shot down Monday by a few councilors who've expressed more concern about whether the city is getting enough in return from the Salvation Army for its investment. The financial contribution requires seven of nine votes to pass because the city money comes from a trust fund traditionally set aside for streets.

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