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Other City council action Monday:

r Affirmed Gordon Ramsay as police chief. Ramsay, whose wife pinned his badge in front of an applauding Council Chambers audience, said he wants to reopen the 24-hour police desk, as well as decrease management and increase neighborhood presence.

r Affirmed Gordon Ramsay as police chief. Ramsay, whose wife pinned his badge in front of an applauding Council Chambers audience, said he wants to reopen the 24-hour police desk, as well as decrease management and increase neighborhood presence.

* Heard no comment on proposed property tax increases.

* Reversed a decision on a land swap below Hawk Ridge and Skyline Parkway. The approved deal protects an established trail, provides a buffer zone and clears up a paperwork mistake.

* Referred a proposed ordinance regulating flashing or video billboards to the Planning Commission for a recommendation.

It's not often that the Duluth City Council has a real nail-biter vote, like it did Monday night with the proposed Kroc center in West Duluth.

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But then councilors never have had to decide whether to give a Christian organization $7.2 million of taxpayer money for the use of a new competition swimming pool and two basketball courts instead of fixing city streets.

In the end, they voted 8-1 to give Duluth and the Salvation Army the money, instead of sweating about what the city gets in return or any potential separation of church and state lawsuit against the city.

Before a rare standing-room-only crowd in City Hall, councilors said yes to the money, use and developmentagreement and sale of five acres at Wheeler Field on Grand Avenue. Third District Councilor Russ Stewart was the lone no vote.

Councilors Laurie Johnson, Greg Gilbert, Russ Stover, Tim Little, Jim Stauber, Don Ness, Roger Reinert and Garry Krause all voted yes, although a few of those votes were tepid. The all-important funding vote could have been tight, because it required 7 of 9 councilors.

Supporters were jubilant over the decision. Now it must go before the Salvation Army Central District Headquarters next month for a final decision, said Maj. Mark Welsh of the Duluth Salvation Army.

"This is a big step in the right direction," said Welsh, who has said that Duluth's project is almost assured if the city came through.

The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center at Wheeler will be a $50 million investment,$40 million of which will come from the Salvation Army, into West Duluth. A $10 million match from the community was required to attract the facility.

Organizers hope to begin construction by mid-summer.

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Early in the meeting, Krause passed an amendment to remove a $300,000 grant over 10 years for the Kroc Center from the Parks and Recreation Department. The money comes from the city's share of pull tab profits and goes toward "micro grants" to community clubs for projects, such as a new sound system.

Salvation Army attorney Doug Franzen said the Salvation Army will need to find a way to replace that money. But otherwise Duluth's application for Chicago looks good, he said.

About 45,000 of the facility's 85,000 square feet will be devoted to recreational purposes, including an indoor water park. The city, and general public, will get 750 hours a year forever of recreational use of the building for its contribution.

Stewart voted in favor of pledging the city's share twice before. However, with a budget deficit and retiree health-care problem, he questioned the investment at this time.

"I don't think it is a project that I signed on for two years ago," Stewart said of the complex that was at one time supposed to be 200,000 square feet.

"I hope we are being undersold," Little said.

Gilbert said this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the city to leverage so much money and reshape the Lincoln Park/West End and West Duluth neighborhoods at the same time.

Ness said he chose to support it with the families and neighborhood in mind, despite his other concerns.

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Krause said it should have been a simple quick decision because it's in his district. If much of the work on this wasn't done before he got onto the council this year, he would have voted no since the roads are in such bad shape, he said.

The rest of the Kroc center will be devoted to Salvation Army programs for the elderly, homeless, poor, children and teenagers. There will a food shelf, classrooms, computer lab and theater/chapel.

City and Salvation Army lawyers also were confident that devoting the city money -- which comes from the city's share of Fond-du-Luth casino profits -- exclusively to recreational programming would shield it from a lawsuit.

At Large councilors Stauber and Reinert added an amendment to use the $377,580 from the land sale to replace the bocce courts, playground and tennis courts within a year either on site or nearby. The amendment will give the Wheeler Fieldhouse to anyone who is willing to move and preserve it without cost to the city.

CHRIS HAMILTON covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5502 or by e-mail at chamilton@duluthnews.com .

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