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Duluth skate park gets boost from federal rescue funds

The St. Louis County Board approved the $250,000 measure as part of its focus on delivering projects aimed at children and families.

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An architectural rendering shows the skate park that is being constructed at the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Area. Contributed / Gary-New Duluth Development Alliance
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DULUTH — When the St. Louis County Board meets Tuesday, it’ll follow through with a pledge to use some of its $54 million in federal pandemic relief funds for projects related to children and families.

For starters, the board will give final approval to use $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help complete construction of the 10,000-foot skate park in Gary-New Duluth.

“There’s nothing like it north of the Twin Cities,” said Mark Boben, chair of the Gary-New Duluth Development Alliance, when presenting the project during the board’s committee of the whole meeting Tuesday in Hoyt Lakes.

“It will bring people in,” Boben added. “Skateboarders are like snowboarders — they go to different resorts.”

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Mark Boben

The board agreed in 2021 to use $1 million of its relief dollars for projects in each of the seven commissioners’ districts. A similar investment is scheduled later for the launch of a new Boys & Girls Club of Hibbing.

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Commissioner Ashley Grimm, representing western Duluth, noted how the county is often investing in juvenile corrections and out-of-home placements. The latest investments represent something else.

“Most of the time … we’re investing in a lot of downstream measures,” Grimm said. “Our county has also decided to invest upstream to give kids opportunities.”

The skate park is the “crown jewel” of a yearslong effort to rebuild the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Center and its host of offerings adjacent to Stowe Elementary School.

Boben described a community rummage sale attracting more than 1,000 people to the recreational area earlier this month, along with three concerts planned for this summer, annual Memorial and Veterans day activities, and a three-on-three basketball tournament also on the upcoming calendar.

“We’ll bring kids in from the entire area to use our facilities,” Boben said. “It’s a true community center that’s helping to bridge the east-west divide (in Duluth). It’s having a profound impact on our community.”

Commissioner Frank Jewell, representing central Duluth, praised the efforts in Gary-New Duluth, and saw value in spending federal dollars on the skate park.

“For kids who aren’t doing well,” Jewell said, “this is the kind of thing that helps move them a step closer to being better.”

Previously, the County Board has invested $5.2 million in federal rescue money on a University of Minnesota mentorship program for county schools dubbed "Check and Connect Student Engagement Intervention," aimed at addressing the rise in truancy in local schools during the pandemic.

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The projects have all been vetted and deemed eligible under federal rules governing the use of recovery dollars, county administration told the board.

Nearly a decade after the start of a community-drive effort to revitalize an aging community center, work continues on a skate park that will be the "crown jewel" of the sprawling recreation area in the far western neighborhood.

The County Board also agreed last Tuesday to spend $113,700 for the Hibbing Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s Move to Wellness project.

Andrew Jarocki, a Lead for Minnesota fellow serving in the Hibbing HRA, told the board the housing authority has begun offering classes on financial literacy, nutrition, clearing debt and finding employment. More than 85% of Hibbing HRA tenants earn less than $25,000 annually, Jarocki said.

“We wanted to be more than landlords,” he added. “We want them to succeed.”

The board also voted to give the city of Cook $68,000 in federal relief funds to address excessive manganese in its water supply.

“This will go a long way to remedying that and keeping manganese to where it needs to be,” Board Chair Paul McDonald said. “It’s not a pleasant thing to have, and I’m totally in favor (of the spending).”

All of the federal relief spending measures passed unanimously, and are expected to receive final approval on the consent agenda at Tuesday's upcoming County Board meeting in Duluth.

“This money we’re getting from the federal government can be so impactful to kids and families,” Grimm said.

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Gary-New Duluth’s Boben agreed.

“Our focus is on youth,” Boben said. “Our youth is our future.”

Brady Slater covers St. Louis County and transportation for the Duluth News Tribune. He's a veteran journalist, and a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was born and raised in the Northland. He can be reached by emailing bslater@duluthnews.com or by calling or texting 218-721-2724.
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