The Duluth City Council will vote Monday on a proposed plan to reduce the size of Lake Superior Plaza, commonly known as Minnesota Power Plaza, and reroute a portion of the skywalk.
The council will decide whether to reconfigure around 20 percent of the plaza along the Minnesota Power building for the addition of new security features, as well as a proposal to move the current path of the skywalk, which goes through the building, to a staircase that leads outside, according to documents filed with the City.
The Minnesota Power building and the plaza are located near the intersection of West Superior Street and South Lake Avenue. The plaza has been the location of numerous rallies and protests.
Relinquishing the plaza space to the company would give it “better control” of the building’s security, according to the documents. It plans to add security barriers, like bollards, and landscaping to create a buffer zone approximately 30 feet out from the side of the building. This buffer zone would prevent vehicles from getting too close to the building, said Pat Mullen, senior executive director of external affairs.
The company says the space it wants to reconfigure, which is around 30 to 40 feet, isn’t “critical” to the public’s use of the plaza.
“We've heard some feedback from some people that they're concerned that they won't have the same access they have today. And that's the part that's a misconception, they will have the access … It’s still a community space” Mullen said.
The proposal cites safety concerns for the changes: “Minnesota Power has expressed concern ... that having ‘public pedestrian passageways (the skywalk) inside and immediately adjacent to the Minnesota Power building poses a significant concern for the physical security of our region’s critical energy infrastructure,’” the documents read.
The proposed safety alterations come on the heels of changes to the power industry's standards and regulations, Mullen said.
“We're in an industry that has emphasized a lot of security needs. So it's less about feeling (insecure) about ourselves here, as it is about our industry having a lot of new requirements for how we secure ... both our physical assets out in the field, as well as our general office building,” he said.
Rerouting the skywalk is another safety change that’s needed, Mullen said. It currently runs through the first and second floor of the power building. If the changes pass the council, the company would build a staircase to direct pedestrians from the skywalk down to the street level. Employees of Minnesota Power will still be able to use the second-floor skywalk entrance.
The skywalk redesign will also free up space for the company, Mullen said. “Half [of] the building ... that we operate in right now … was designed for an entirely different use than it's being used for today and is projected to be used for in the future,” he said.
Minnesota Power’s proposed changes passed the planning commission by a unanimous vote last month, moving the changes to the council for consideration. The council is slated to vote on the changes at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
“I'm hopeful that the vote on Monday will be successful, because ... it means big plans for us,” Mullen said.