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Duluth loses 'corporate memory' with Majewski's retirement

When Friday afternoon rolls around and Bill Majewski packs up his papers and leaves his office at City Hall for the last time, Duluth planners will have lost a wealth of memory.

When Friday afternoon rolls around and Bill Majewski packs up his papers and leaves his office at City Hall for the last time, Duluth planners will have lost a wealth of memory.
Majewski, a business developer with the city of Duluth, is retiring after a 37-year career in planning. Thirty-six of those years were in Duluth. During that time Majewski worked on the development of Spirit Mountain, the Lake Superior Zoo, Canal Park and the waterfront.
But in some ways, Majewski is a walking contradiction. While instrumental in the development of several key areas of the city, he is also passionate about preserving and restoring things, and not just his '39 Chevy.
Majewski has been the staff person from the city on the Heritage Preservation Commission for many years and is working closely with those involved in trying to preserve the Armory. He also works closely with the Parks Department and with those working on establishing Skyline Parkway as a federal scenic byway.
Majewski earned his planning degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and worked for the state of Wisconsin for one year before coming to Duluth in 1965. He was hired by the city to work on an area transportation study, which was required by the federal highway administration before the federal dollars could be used for the extension of Interstate 35.
The freeway was coming down Thompson Hill at that time. In downtown, the blocks of Fifth and Sixth avenues west were being cleared for an urban renewal project that would eventually lead to the development of the new library, the Radisson Hotel and the Ordean Building.
Majewski worked for two years as senior planner in Duluth before leaving the post to go work as a planner for a local architectural firm. While there, he was a key opponent to the planned course of the freeway. At that time, it was to head south of the steam plant and cross part of Lake Superior, requiring a significant amount of filling in of the lake.
"Several of us felt that shouldn't happen," Majewski said. "They should reroute that somehow and keep it out of the lake. We talked to people and tried to get them to get involved. Finally, Julia Marshall listened."
With the backing of Marshall, they were finally able to get the project stopped. A consultant from San Francisco was hired to restudy the freeway plan and redesign it.
"In the process, the project was delayed for 10 years," Majewski said. "The redesign and stopping of it resulted in a much better product."
After five years with the architectural firm, Majewski rejoined the city of Duluth planning office and went to work for the business development office. At that time, Jerry Kimball was the city planner.
"I was darn happy to get him," Kimball said. "Bill was well-liked, willing to help other divisions and other people. He was very good with citizens. He was just a good, stable, strong, devoted employee."
One of the biggest projects Majewski worked on with Kimball was a plan for Canal Park and the waterfront. At that time the area was mostly industrial and blighted properties.
"The significance of our work on the waterfront is not only did we guide the planning, but we were also in charge of implementation," Kimball said. "That's where people like Bill really helped a lot. You want to get the best cooperation. He also helped a lot with a very significant visioning project in 1982 which kind of set the stage for a lot of consensus in the city toward working on the downtown waterfront."
The plan for developing Canal Park into what it is today began with a couple of vague concepts. Then they began working it into something more and more definite until they had a final design for actually doing some construction down there.
Some of the business people in Canal Park were skeptical.
"They were protective of the turf they had," Majewski said. "What we were proposing to do down there was going to make the property that was dilapidated a lot more desirable for investment. We spent about $10 million on that project. It primed the pump to generate a lot of real increases in real estate value as well as investments in private development. We think it was a success."
As a proponent of historical preservation, Majewski has spent many hours working on preservation issues in the city -- from the granitoid streets in East Duluth to the Armory restoration project.
"My interest in preserving properties and sites is something I've always had," Majewski said. "When I was assigned to work with the Heritage Preservation Commission, I did have an interest in some of the things they were dealing with. I've found it very gratifying to work on some of the projects we've worked on."
Majewski says one of his regrets is not having enough hours to work more on preservation issues.
Maybe not enough in his opinion, but Carol Sundquist, who has worked with Majewski on both the granitoid streets issue and the Armory, says having Majewski on the side of historic preservation was a real benefit.
"Bill really cares about the city and about the history of the city," Sundquist said. "He's been such a friend to historic preservation."
Majewski began staffing the Heritage Preservation Commission meetings right about the time the granitoid streets became an issue.
"Bill is good staff," Sundquist said. "He's not the flag waver to carry the project; that's the position I took. But as far as staff support, to look for the resources of historic preservation, he's well versed. He's someone who's always willing to listen to the issues involving historic preservation and is sympathetic to those issues. He's also someone who understands the political scene and how to work with that and how to get things done in City Hall."
From expansion at the zoo, development of Bayfront, Spirit Mountain, I-35, the West Duluth Plan and the waterfront, Majewski has had his finger in the projects of Duluth for the last 36 years. It's a history of progress along with preservation.
And over the years Majewski has built up quite a memory. It's a resource that fellow planner Jim Moen says he taps just about every week.
"He has a wealth of knowledge about the community and about individual neighborhoods," Moen said. "I'm probably going to call him a lot, and he's not going to like it," he said, laughing.
"We're losing Duluth's corporate memory," Sundquist said. "Because he's worked in the planning department for so long, he knows the city so well and knows all the issues and knows the history of all the issues."
Corporate memory is what Majewski can remember -- what the planning department and the city were involved with from the time he started with the city in 1965. Majewski modestly whittles that down to knowing where to find information in the city's massive filing system.
"I know where a lot of things are in the files that unless somebody has some inkling of where to look or how to find it, it may take a while for somebody to find those things," he said. "Somebody will come in and say 'Do you remember about when such and such happened or so and so was here?' and I can kind of slot it within a few years and it makes it easier sometimes to locate those kinds of records."
But Majewski's so-called corporate memory means more than that, says former city planner Kimball.
"It scares the begeezus out of me that he's leaving," Kimball said. "The planning department is on a downward trend."
But it's time, says Majewski, who has reached "the rule of 90" -- a combination of age and years of service. And he's got a few other things to pursue, like restoring that old '39 Chevy.
"I'd like to make it into a street rod cruiser," he said. "I'd like to do a little cruising around the countryside and going to car shows. I enjoy old cars. I always have."
Besides that, there's a log cabin on a lake north of Duluth and a short but important "honeydo" list drawn up by his wife, Susan. But Majewski says he won't be able to drop city business completely. Some projects are still unfinished, and he says he's willing to come back on a part-time basis to help finish things up.
"I've come to the realization that there is no time where you're going to have a clean cut, where you have everything finished and nothing started," he said. "There are some projects I'd like to see through."
This Friday, Dec. 21, is Majewski's last official day at City Hall.

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