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Duluth City Council OKs another $250K for Spirit Mountain

The Spirit Mountain Recreation Area was granted another financial reprieve Monday evening, when the Duluth City Council voted 8-1 to give it another $250,000 from the city's tourism tax coffers.

The Spirit Mountain Recreation Area was granted another financial reprieve Monday evening, when the Duluth City Council voted 8-1 to give it another $250,000 from the city’s tourism tax coffers.
The funding request from Spirit Mountain came after revenue from its winter and summer operations failed to meet expectations.
Brandy Ream, who took the job as Spirit Mountain’s executive director about three months ago, advised the council it will take time to turn around the financially troubled operation, but pledged to turn it into a self-sustaining organization within two years.
Ream already has reduced staffing and hours of operation to rein in costs. She also announced that workers would be cross-trained to improve the efficiency of operations, and changes will be made to make the recreation area more profitable.
“I believe Spirit Mountain is a community asset that we should continue to support,” said City Council President Linda Krug. “But I think the council has made it very clear that we want to see results.”
The sole vote against providing additional support for Spirit Mountain came from 5th District City Councilor Jay Fosle.
“Spirit Mountain is the district that I represent, and this is a really hard decision for me tonight, because I’ve always 100 percent supported Spirit Mountain on everything that they’ve done,” he said, pointing to improvements such as a timber coaster ride, a zip line and a new chalet that was built last year at the base of the mountain.
“I think what’s changed my mind is that I am a total opponent to a thing called nepotism, and that’s what I feel I see going on at Spirit Mountain right now,” said Fosle, alluding to the recent hiring of Ream’s husband at Spirit Mountain.
That hire was not made directly by Ream but rather by a committee, which included Duluth News Tribune Publisher Ken Browall, formed to evaluate a pool of job candidates for the post.
Despite Fosle’s concerns, 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress voiced support for the new director.
“After extensive conversations with the new director and the board, it’s clear to me that what has changed is that, after a long period of mismanagement, we now have in place the leadership that we need at Spirit Mountain for it to be successful and to reach its full potential. I have great confidence in the new leadership, and I have great confidence that the future will be different from the past,” Sipress said.
The $250,000 allocated Monday comes on top of $725,700 in tourism taxes already provided to Spirit Mountain this year. The city also has extended a $1.2 million line of credit to the operation.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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