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Duluth Heritage arena delayed again

Already delayed once, the Duluth Heritage Sports Center's 1,400-seat ice arena now won't be ready until April 15 because of a delay with bleachers. Work had steadily progressed on other parts of the project, so the full project, which includes lo...

Already delayed once, the Duluth Heritage Sports Center's 1,400-seat ice arena now won't be ready until April 15 because of a delay with bleachers.

Work had steadily progressed on other parts of the project, so the full project, which includes locker rooms, game rooms, concessions, computer labs and classrooms for the Boys & Girls Club, tennis and basketball courts, and a part-time hockey arena, still are set to be completed by the original opening time at the end of October.

During tonight's meeting, councilors will be asked to approve the new timeline and changes in when the city pays for use of the facilities.

The Heritage Sports Center is being built on the old Clyde Iron site at West Michigan Street and 29th Avenue West. The $16 million project has received money from several sources, including $1.8 million from the city of Duluth and $1.2 million from the Duluth school district. Public high schools would use the facility.

That's only one item the council probably will tackle tonight during three consecutive meetings. The others are:

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At 5:30 p.m., councilors will discuss a proposal to build a clinic and assisted living campus near the Lester Park Golf Course. Opponents have concerns about water runoff, traffic and the loss of mature trees and wildlife. The buildings would replace about 11 acres of forest that backs up to homes. The area sits south of the golf course between East Superior Street and Lester River Road. The plan, supported 7-1 in a vote Dec. 11 by Duluth's Planning Commission, is for a 10,000-square-foot clinic that would house a maximum of four doctors and serve 50 patients a day.

About 80 vehicles would move in and out of the area daily during business hours. Next door would be a pair of assisted-living buildings totaling 14,500 square feet, each housing 10 people.

At 6 p.m., councilors will hear a proposal from the administration to make clear that fixing the city's sanitary sewer system is a top priority, and how the city intends to fix the problem.

"We want to send a very clear statement to the community, and especially to the Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, that this is an issue we're going to take head-on," Mayor Don Ness told councilors Thursday. Passing this resolution should solidify that message, he said.

Ness will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. today to outline the city's presentation to the council.

Councilors also will debate a new makeup for the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

The proposal by Councilor Jim Stauber is for a seven-member board made up of two city councilors and five residents, replacing the current system in which all nine councilors double as DEDA commissioners. In addition, Stauber proposes that DEDA decisions no longer would have to be approved by the full City Council, as they are now. At least one new councilor, Sharla Gardner, told fellow councilors during an agenda session Thursday that she'd rather maintain the current structure for another year to give the five new councilors time to get a feel for how things work now, and the potential effect of the proposal. Some councilors also discussed requiring any project beyond $100,000 to come to the council for approval.

But Stauber said a rule like that would render the authority pointless, so he'd rather things remain as they are, if such an amendment is added.

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Stauber also has proposed a 30-day grace period for illegal rentals. That would allow landlords who rented rooms or homes illegally before an ordinance banning rentals within 300 feet of each other took effect to attain a legal license.

That won't increase the total number of rental units, Stauber contends, because people who haven't been renting out a room or house won't be eligible to apply.

The 30-day moratorium Stauber proposed might be a moot point if Councilor Jeff Anderson's proposal to rid the city of the 300-foot rule is approved. The Planning Commission intends to discuss Anderson's proposal during its 5 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

Councilors also are scheduled to vote tonight on proposed changes to the Housing Investment Fund. A proposal by Councilor Todd Fedora would require that the city charge interest "75 percent of the current prime rate" on loans out of the housing investment fund.

The city does not charge interest now.

Opponents say the proposal essentially makes the fund useless, because the terms aren't much better than a bank's. But Fedora -- a banker -- said the terms are still better than those offered by most, if not all, banks. Under the proposal, borrowers would pay back some principal and interest every month, instead of a lump-sum interest-free payment at the end of the 30 years.

The change would not affect current projects, and the new rules would exempt any group trying to get a loan for a supportive housing project, such as the New San Marco apartments. Those apartments are used only by people with alcohol dependency, homeless people or people on the brink of becoming homeless.

All the meetings tonight are on the third floor of Duluth City Hall.

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