The city of Duluth is moving to appeal a decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to designate the Carter Hotel property sovereign land, subject to the jurisdiction of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
No longer would the property be subject to local property taxes, and the footprint of the land under the band's control would grow to include more of downtown Duluth than just the Fond-du-Luth Casino.
While city leaders have objected to the transfer of jurisdiction in the past, Mayor Emily Larson said the latest filing simply preserves Duluth's right to appeal the case and should not be viewed as an adversarial move.
Larson confirmed that the city has filed a notice of intent to appeal the BIA decision but said: "It's procedural in nature. It was communicated in advance to the Fond du Lac Band, and it essentially started a new 30-day clock so we can continue our work together until the next legal deadline approaches, to continue our conversation."
Band Chairman Wally Dupuis shared Larson's interpretation of the recent filing.
"We didn't take it as any kind of a hostile action or anything," he said.
"The communication lines are open between our two governments, and communication is happening in both directions," Dupuis said.
Dupuis and Larson declined to delve into any details of their pending talks.
Relations between the band and the city have frayed in recent years. In 2009, the band determined a long-lived agreement to share revenues from the Fond-du-Luth Casino with the city of Duluth was inappropriate and cut off payments of about $6 million per year. The National Indian Gaming Commission came to the same conclusion and ordered the band to discontinue sharing its casino revenues with the city.
Duluth challenged the actions and litigated the matter for several years, but the Fond du Lac Band came out on top.
The band purchased the Carter Hotel, 17-27 N. Second Ave. E., in 2010. The following year, it filed papers seeking to put the property, which neighbors the casino, under its sovereign jurisdiction.
The city objected and filed suit. But in December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson dismissed the case, leaving it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of the Interior to determine the matter.
The now-abandoned hotel building was constructed in 1929 and has fallen into disrepair. Ferdinand Martineau, the band's secretary/treasurer, said it will likely be demolished as soon as the property is officially placed in trust on behalf of the band.
Neither Ferdinand nor Dupuis would discuss the band's future plans for the property when contacted last week.
David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said the city and band will see if they can come to terms in the coming weeks.
"It's been positive so far, but there's a lot of work to do, and we're doing that work and seeing if there's a direction we can both go that works well for everyone, he said.