Duluth councilors propose to redirect tourism tax funds to Glensheen Mansion
A proposed reallocation could come at the expense of Fourth Fest fireworks or Spirit Mountain.
The Duluth City Council will consider an amendment Monday to Mayor Emily Larson's proposal as to how the city should divvy up tourism tax collections next year.
While Larson had proposed to zero out funding to Glensheen Mansion in 2021, Councilors Terese Tomanek and Derek Medved are recommending the city provide $25,000 in support next year — half of what the museum was slated to receive in 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Glensheen was one of nine organizations that would not receive any tourism tax funding next year under the mayor's plan, which anticipates collections from the hospitality tax will remain about 25% below what they were in 2019, due to the lingering impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Tomanek said that while she considers all of those organizations left out of the budget quite worthy, "There are a few reasons that I think Glensheen should receive at least part of their allocation request. First of all, I've been a lover of Glensheen for many many years, and I serve on their board as the board liaison to the city."
"Glensheen is one of the primary tourist attractions in the city of Duluth, bringing in tourist dollars," she said. "Also, that money will be used to leverage a substantial contribution from the University of Minnesota (which owns and operates Glensheen), so that money will be multiplied."
Tomanek said the $25,000 in city support she proposes would go toward the replacement of a 30-year-old fire suppression system in the historic mansion.
Tomanek suggested the $25,000 for Glensheen could be taken from what she called "a very generous" $500,000 allocation Larson proposed to provide to Spirit Mountain.
Larson explained why she proposed the city provide $500,000 in operating support to Spirit Mountain next year, instead of the $275,000 it originally was budgeted to receive this year.
"We chose that $500,000 amount with intention, because I don't remember a year when we have given only $275,000. We have always had to come back and give more. So, from my vantage, it made sense to just be direct about it and honest that we really think this is the level of funding we think it's going to take this year," she said.
Medved suggested that perhaps the $25,000 could be drawn from $57,000 the mayor proposes the city provide to pay for a Fourth Fest fireworks display.
"Is there a possibility we could dial down the fireworks show and use money from that allocation for Glensheen?" he asked.
Noah Schuchman, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said the Council could certainly choose to redirect funds but also suggested that cutting that much from the fireworks display budget may well lead to a cancellation of the event.
Alternatively, Medved suggested he could support Tomanek's proposal to draw from Spirit Mountain's proposed allocation.
"When we talk about equity and looking across the whole city, out east there's Glensheen. And I think Glensheen's a huge asset to our city," he said. "So, if we're asking to take $25,000 from Spirit, which has a large allocation, and we want to move it out east to be equitable, that's what I will fight for."
However, 5th District Councilor Janet Kennedy noted that Glensheen does little to represent the contributions of the city's minority populations, including people of African heritage, such as herself.
"There's nothing that looks like me or reminds me of me or reminds me of any other people except Euro-American people in that building," she said. "Now, if you're going to tell me you're going to cut fireworks for maybe the Fourth of July or make cuts at Spirit Mountain, I will tell you that more people of diversity and ethnicity are going to be going to see fireworks than that other place."