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Duluth mayor unveils restoration plans for Enger Tower

Duluth's iconic Enger Tower could receive much-needed repairs under a plan Mayor Don Ness announced Thursday. And it also might receive a dedication from a king. Ness is seeking City Council approval to spend $372,226 to repair the 72-year-old, 8...

Enger Tower
Duluth Mayor Don Ness (right) talks with Denfeld seniors Janelle Berg and Aaron Stinson about the painting they did of Enger Tower for their art class at Central High School on Thursday. Berg and Stinson donated the painting -- created as part of a service-learning project on the history and renovation of Enger Tower -- to the city. While at the school, Ness announced a $372,226 plan to renovate the city icon. The plan requires City Council approval. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Duluth's iconic Enger Tower could receive much-needed repairs under a plan Mayor Don Ness announced Thursday.

And it also might receive a dedication from a king.

Ness is seeking City Council approval to spend $372,226 to repair the 72-year-old, 80-foot-tall stone observation tower.

"That will be the most significant investment in Enger Tower since it was built," Ness said.

The money would come from tourism taxes on hotel and motel lodging, food and beverages. In recent years the taxes have raised between $6.8 million and more than $7.3 million. The city uses the money largely to help fund various tourism groups and attractions.

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Visit Duluth, for example, will receive about $1.5 million in tourism taxes this year. More than $1.3 million will go to help pay for the DECC Amsoil Arena, $1 million for the DECC and $100,000 for Enger Tower.

Ness announced his renovation plan at Central High School while visiting an art class whose students have been learning about Enger Tower for a service-learning project. District-wide, about 120 students researched the tower and produced artwork featuring it.

"They're learning about the history of the tower, the (Enger) family and the restoration project," art teacher Terry Norton said. "Art is interdisciplinary; it lends itself to service learning."

To help pay for the renovation project, student art work will be sold at a silent auction later this year. There also are plans to produce pendants, note cards and pads for sale.

During Ness's visit, two Denfeld seniors, Aaron Stinson and Janelle Berg, presented him with a nearly 3-by-4-foot painting they did of the tower. The city will display the painting in City Hall.

"I hope the city will make good use of it and spread the word for the good cause," Berg said. "It was really interesting to learn the history of it, how it came to be how the city is trying to fix it up."

City councilor and finance committee chairman Todd Fedora hadn't heard before Thursday of Ness's plan to ask for council approval to increase the Enger Tower earmark from $100,000 to $372,226. He wanted to make sure the change wouldn't increase debt or come from the city's general fund before positively saying he would support the request.

"If there is no debt involved and if the money is a fund to pay for these tourism-related capital expenditures, my first blush is a positive one," he said. "Enger Tower is certainly one of Duluth's most recognizable landmarks. If it's in need of repairing than we should take a look at whether or not it makes sense to do that. We should work upon it in a can-do sort of attitude rather than heck-no."

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Visit Duluth CEO and President Terry Mattson also hadn't heard about Ness's plan. While he didn't comment directly on the plan, he did say it makes sense to care for the city's attractions.

"Tourism pays for itself," he said.

Enger Tower plus 600 acres of land were a posthumous gift to the city from Bert J. Enger, a native of Norway who immigrated to Duluth and made his fortune selling furniture. The 1939 opening of the tower was attended by Norwegian Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha.

Ness said on Thursday that Norway's King Harold V will be coming to Minnesota in October, and he hopes to have the king rededicate the tower after its restoration.

The king's father, then Crown Prince Olav, first dedicated Enger Tower in 1939, when King Harold was 2 years old, Ness said.

According to the city, the list of Enger Tower's needed repairs include tuck-pointing, replacement of missing bluestone; electrical and lighting work, plaster and concrete patching, roof work, replacement of railings and a gate, and improving accessibility. If the council approves the project, preparation work could begin by mid-month. Construction could be completed by late spring.

The restoration project would be done in concert with a lighting improvement project at the tower. In June, Rotary Club No. 25 of Duluth announced it will donate about $100,000 to bathe Enger Tower in light. The club is undertaking the project to mark its centennial. The lighting project will be completed in May.

Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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