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Duluth Council votes to fight Voyageur Lakewalk Inn award

The Duluth City Council voted Monday to fight a court decision awarding $545,600 to the owners of the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn. The city used eminent domain to take over the air rights of a parking lot behind the motel to build what is now the SMDC/...

The Duluth City Council voted Monday to fight a court decision awarding $545,600 to the owners of the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn.

The city used eminent domain to take over the air rights of a parking lot behind the motel to build what is now the SMDC/Medical District parking ramp.

The city offered owners Rick and Pamela Pietrusa just over $100,000 for the rights; the motel owners felt that wasn't nearly enough to compensate for the loss of business and future revenue that would happen from the city taking the property.

A three-person commission appointed by a judge for their expertise in property value sided with the Pietrusas. The city, however, feels that the commission erred.

The decision sends the case to a trial. The city will now have to put $302,200 into an escrow account for the property, as required by law. It also will pay at least $249,000 to the Pietrusas for the property, after a revised estimate of the air rights value done by the city appraiser.

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Only councilor Jim Stauber voted against appealing the award.

Fedora changes mind on Banks resolution

WHAT HAPPENED: Councilor Todd Fedora pulled a resolution from the agenda Monday night requesting Henry Banks' removal from the Planning Commission. Banks accused Fedora, along with Councilor Garry Krause, of being racist after the two questioned his appointment to another city commission. Fedora said he met with Banks on Monday morning for a cup of coffee and had what he described as a cordial conversation and talked about the incident.

"We have a great perspective for each other. We both share a love for Duluth and realized that we all need to do is move forward, and that's what we're going to do," he said. "I have yet to meet a person whohasn't had a bad day."

Banks could not be reached for comment. Councilor Garry Krause underwent shoulder surgery Monday; Fedora said Banks told him that he would meet with Krause and have a similar conversation.

VISI gets JOBZ status

WHAT HAPPENED: The council unanimously agreed to grant JOBZ status to VISI Inc., a Twin Cities-based technology company that will bring a data center to Duluth Heights. The 50,000-square-foot center will cost $18 million to $19 million and be built behind the Uniprise building off Rice Lake Road. To be granted JOBZ status, which waives many tax requirements, the council had to approve removing the designation from 12.4 acres of Canadian National Railway Co. land in Morgan Park and transferring it to the new area. VISI also has to promise to create at least10 new jobs where workers would earn between $27,000 and $80,000 a year.

WHAT'S NEXT: VISI hopes to have its facility running by spring 2009, and hopes to expand the facility to 100,000 square feet and employ20 people.

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Council approves Potswald hiring

WHAT HAPPENED: The City Council unanimously approved the hiring of Lisa Potswald as the city's chief administrative officer. The approval was placed on the council's consent agenda, meaning there were no objections and no questions on the issue.

WHAT'S NEXT: Potswald starts work today, while John Hall, who worked as CAO for the past two years, worked his last day on Monday. Mayor Don Ness praised Hall, saying the city has been well-served by his leadership.

"His loyalty was always to be in the best interest of the city," Ness said. "He is a man of great integrity."

Social host ordinance passes unanimously

WHAT HAPPENED: Councilor Todd Fedora's ordinance to make it a finable offense if someone is found to be hosting a party where alcohol is being served to minors easily passed. A social host could face up to a $1,000 penalty, even if that person isn't on the premises, if alcohol is being served to a minor.

WHAT'S NEXT: The ordinance takes effect in 30 days. Fedora said he hopes to pair the law with a nuisance ordinance he plans to introduce by the next city council meeting.

City plans to repair only 1.5 miles of roads

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WHAT HAPPENED: The city of Duluth presented its annual Street Improvement Program repair plan to the city council Monday night, saying that $2.5 million will be spent to repair 1.5 miles of roads. The repairs are the Lakeside and Morley Heights area. It is the smallest amount of road repair the city has proposed as part of the SIP program since it began in 1994.

WHAT'S NEXT: The city administration asked the Council to table approving the spending so it could look at other ways to fund more road repair.

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