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Tall order for Duluth dignitaries

Roger Reinert and Don Ness have taken some big steps in their political careers, but nothing like this. "When you step off, you realize how tall of a building that really is," Duluth Mayor Ness said after rappelling down the nine-story Sellwood B...

Don Ness begins rappel
Duluth Mayor Don Ness looks up during his rappel down the nine-story Sellwood Building in downtown Duluth on Wednesday for the Greater Downtown Council's "Over the Edge" fundraiser. The event is part of Sidewalk Days. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Roger Reinert and Don Ness have taken some big steps in their political careers, but nothing like this.

"When you step off, you realize how tall of a building that really is," Duluth Mayor Ness said after rappelling down the nine-story Sellwood Building late on Wednesday afternoon.

Ness and Reinert, the state senator from Duluth, were the first two among a cadre of dignitaries and media personnel to descend the building in the 200 block of West Superior Street as part of the Greater Downtown Council's Sidewalk Days Festival.

Ness, who was greeted by his wife, Laura, and their three excited children when he reached the street, said he couldn't recall any similar previous experience. Reinert said he had done some rappelling as a Boy Scout, but it had been a while.

"As I got ready for this, a lot of people said, 'Well, you're a pilot, this is not going to be a big deal,' " Reinert said.

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But it was a big deal, he said.

"This was a personal challenge," he said. "As we took the stairs to the eighth floor and climbed the stairs to the roof, I could feel the anxiety building."

Scott Deputy gets that a lot.

"Apprehension is high," said Deputy, site safety

supervisor for Over The Edge, the Canadian company that's putting on the event.

Deputy, a rock climber and search and rescue worker, supervises five to 10 such events a year for the company. He and two fellow employees work with a volunteer local team of firefighters, SWAT team members and climbers. They place a premium on safety, Deputy said.

Asked if there had ever been a mishap, he responded: "No. They don't let us keep coming to work if we have mishaps."

Reinert and Ness appreciated that.

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"Once you got going and you realized the equipment was working and everything they said was going to happen was happening, then I felt a sense of confidence," Reinert said.

A group of volunteers wearing orange crash helmets guided the ropes from below with another group handling them at the top of the building.

Reinert, who volunteered to go first, said he started to enjoy himself by the time he reached the sixth floor. After that, "it was exhilarating," he said.

After a brief delay, it was the mayor's turn. It wasn't clear how many of the spectators below initially realized the tall figure working his way past the eighth-floor ledge was their mayor. But as he reached the Western Bank sign at the first floor, a cheer broke out from the crowd.

Like Reinert, Ness said he grew more comfortable as he got past the first couple of floors.

"You realize that the only thing holding you up there is this harness and the rope and a lot of experience of other people doing it," Ness said. "Once you get the hang of it ... you can let it go a little more. And you also don't have so far to fall."

More people will go over the edge of the Sellwood Building today, beginning at 10 a.m.

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