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More money sought for Spirit Mountain in Duluth

Just three months into her new job as executive director of the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area, Brandy Ream found herself in the proverbial hot seat Thursday night, as she appeared before the Duluth City Council to request more assistance for th...

Just three months into her new job as executive director of the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area, Brandy Ream found herself in the proverbial hot seat Thursday night, as she appeared before the Duluth City Council to request more assistance for the financially troubled operation she now oversees.
On Monday, the council will decide whether to dedicate an additional $250,000 from the city’s tourism tax fund to help Spirit Mountain sustain operations until the next ski season arrives.
The funding request comes on top of $725,700 in tourism tax collections that already were slated to be funneled into the recreation area this year.
The city threw yet another financial lifeline to Spirit Mountain earlier this year, when it boosted the line of credit it provides the operation to $1.2 million in order to help it through the summer, after a disappointing winter season marred by a bitter cold snap.
“I’m not OK with the fact that I’m having to come back here to ask for additional funds,” Reams said. “This should not be the norm for Spirit Mountain.”
But she said income from Spirit Mountain’s summer attractions -including the Timber Coaster, a zipline ride, a minigolf course, a campground and a network of mountain biking trails - did not keep pace with what she described as “inflated revenue numbers in the budget.”
That original budget was developed before Ream’s arrival and under the watch of her predecessor, former Executive Director Renee Mattson.
Ream cited several other hardships as well, including the cost of several pending lawsuits, what she called an inflexible union overtime policy and rising health insurance costs.
In response, Ream said she has switched many of Spirit Mountain’s attractions from seven- to three-day-a-week operations. She said she also aims to cross-train and consolidate the workforce with an eye toward improved efficiency.
“We’re slowly turning the ship, and you’re going to see Spirit Mountain be sustainable in the future,” she pledged.
But Ream wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she may return to the council seeking yet more financial assistance in future months. She said it could take a couple of years to make Spirit Mountain profitable and begin paying back the city the money it owes.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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