Our view: Vision for western Duluth gaining steam
A one-time seemingly insurmountable quest -- to get visitors to Duluth (as well as those moving here) to look west toward the St. Louis River rather than always the other way toward Canal Park -- just keeps gaining momentum.
A one-time seemingly insurmountable quest - to get visitors to Duluth (as well as those moving here) to look west toward the St. Louis River rather than always the other way toward Canal Park - just keeps gaining momentum.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness first floated the notion of western Duluth and the river corridor as our next big thing in his 2014 State of the City Address just over a year ago. He saw potential where mayors before him never did. He saw value in investment where others saw only decline. And, drawing from five years of planning and imagining by some 70 western Duluth stakeholders, Ness was even able to propose a funding plan to put millions behind the vision.
The governor and Legislature signed off first. Along with millions in bonding for improvements at Spirit Mountain and Wade Stadium, lawmakers last year gave Duluth city leaders the authority to re-enact, after two years of dormancy, a pair of half-percent sales taxes in Duluth.
The City Council did just that in July, reinstating half-percent sales taxes on hotel stays and on food and beverage purchases in local restaurants. The taxes are forecast to raise $18 million to improve water access; build trails for hikers, mountain bikers and even snowshoers; to boost housing efforts; and to enhance and launch further recreational and other opportunities.
Last week councilors unanimously approved a plan to leverage the $18 million so it can grow to an expected $50 million to pay for projects, including, possibly, a rock- and ice-climbing center at Casket Quarry in West Duluth. Projects will need to come back to the council before final funding decisions.
Most encouraging: Tourism taxes are supporting tourism - and improving neighborhoods as well as Duluth’s attractiveness to new families, businesses and industries along the way.
At the same time as all this, an unprecedented environmental cleanup continues in and along the St. Louis River, further improving western Duluth. Pockets of pollution persist after decades of heavy industry on the riverfront. The river was so polluted it was listed as a federal “area of concern.” But with the cleanup underway, the river is expected to be de-listed in 2025.
That’s a lot of momentum for a vision some may have dubbed as daffy or unrealistic or worse.
And then Monday’s News Tribune brought more reason to doubt the doubters and to believe Duluth’s next big thing really is taking shape. A front-page story reminded readers that, starting this summer, Grand Avenue, western Duluth’s main artery - its lifeline - will undergo a two-year,
$12.4 million renovation, all the way from Interstate 35, past the zoo, past the base of Spirit Mountain, past the entrance to Morgan Park, past the Superfund cleanup at the former U.S. Steel site and to Gary-New Duluth and Becks Road. The project is to western Duluth what reinforcing a foundation is to a house before renovations. It’s the rock on which Ness’ vision - now shared by many - can be built. Will be built. With momentum that just keeps growing.