Kroc Center deal ready for City Council

Attorneys for the Salvation Army and the city of Duluth have hammered out the agreements needed for construction of the long-awaited $20 million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in West Duluth.

Attorneys for the Salvation Army and the city of Duluth have hammered out the agreements needed for construction of the long-awaited $20 million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in West Duluth.

But there's still lots of political maneuvering left to do.

"We have reached a deal on a staff level," Salvation Army attorney Doug Franzen told the News Tribune by phone Thursday. "I expect us to have something final in place before the end of the year."

The agreements are crucial to a facility that will provide state-of-the-art sports and recreation facilities, a public theater, meeting rooms, programming and services to some of the city's poorest residents as well as the broader community.

However, Salvation Army officials have said that the City Council must finalize its pledged $7.5 million taxpayer commitment toward the project before they will come through with $40 million to build and care for the facility at Wheeler Field on Grand Avenue.


A City Council committee of the whole meeting on the subject is scheduled for Nov. 27.

The Duluth Salvation Army will own and manage the proposed 85,000-square-foot recreation and community center. All the project's elements will go to Salvation Army headquarters in Chicago for final approval, said Maj. Mark Welsh of the Duluth Salvation Army.

He said the project is nearly assured if these agreements are accepted by the city.

"I support the tentative agreement with the Salvation Army for the Kroc Community Center," Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson said Thursday. "It will bring a facility to a neighborhood that lacks many services. The project brings $20 million in construction and a permanent facility that will employ 25 to 35 people and some important services to the less fortunate."

Together, the city and private donors have pledged $10.1 million of the center's $30 million operations endowment to meet a community match required by the Salvation Army and the Joan and Ray Kroc Trust. The local Salvation Army will need to raise more money to run the facility, he said.

Along with releasing the money -- which will come from the city's Fond-du-Luth Casino revenue over five years -- the City Council also must vote for a public use and development agreement as well as a land-sale pact.

For the five acres at Wheeler Field between 34th and 38th avenues west, the Salvation Army is expected to pay about $370,000, according to the development agreement. However, they are still waiting on the final appraisals. Because it is park land, the Parks and Recreation Commission and Planning Commission must approve the sale.

Salvation Army officials have said construction could begin as early as next spring and take 18 months to complete. Welsh said he will present the plan to all of the boards and each city councilor, if they will listen.



Spending taxpayer money on a center with a chapel and religious mission has been a source of public concern, including for a few councilors.

The Salvation Army is building dozens of similar centers across the country, thanks to $1.5 billion bequeathed by McDonald's restaurant heir Joan Kroc.

For its contribution, Duluth is essentially buying use of the center, Duluth City Attorney Bryan Brown said.

Each year, the Parks and Recreation Department will receive 750 hours for recreation activities such as swimming competitions, basketball leagues and access to the indoor water park, Welsh said. The Salvation Army also will make memberships and daily passes available for a price to the public.

The Salvation Army will decide who uses the meeting rooms, classrooms, theater, kitchen and lounges, Welsh said. He doesn't expect anyone being turned away because of their beliefs.

"We have always served people regardless of race, color, creed, sex or age, and we will continue to do that," Welsh said. "We'll be open to anything. We do it today. There are no special religious criteria necessary for our help and service."

The pact comes four months past a self-imposed deadline for the agreements by Salvation Army officials. Franzen, a noted lobbyist from Minneapolis, said the delay wasn't caused by hard bargaining but by the project's complexity and difficulties with scheduling.



The project won't be without an unintended casualty. Parks and Recreation Department Director Carl Seehus said it's unlikely the distinctive Wheeler Field House will be spared from the wrecking ball. However, the agreement will provide some space to recognize the pioneering Wheeler family with an exhibit in the new center.

City engineers and architects looked into transporting the brick building to one of the city campgrounds or community centers, but discovered that it would be too expensive because of the low clearance under the ore docks and interstate, Seehus said.

Duluth Parks and Recreation Department officials also have been busy trying to figure out a way to replace the popular tennis and bocce ball courts at Wheeler Field while finding a neutral site to build the long-delayed city skateboard park.

Salvation Army officials have stood firm that they don't have enough money to replace the courts.

At Large City Councilor Jim Stauber said he has asked for a resolution that would dedicate all money from the land sale to replacing lost facilities.

Seehus said he had more good news this week. The city has been able to acquire the former Holiday Gas Station on Grand Avenue and Carlton Street, he said. The city will use the building for storage, offices and public restrooms for the outdoor skate park.

The park will be built on the land behind the gas station if the Kroc Center comes through, Seehus said. Otherwise, it will go in its original site next to Grand Avenue, he said.


"We're still 'if 'ing," Seehus said. "You know, everything starts with, 'If the Kroc Center goes through ...' "

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