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Mayor Ness Lays Out Future of St. Louis River Neighborhoods in State of the City

Updated: 03/03/2014 10:45 PM
Created: 03/03/2014 10:35 PM WDIO.com
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

Duluth Mayor Don Ness' annual State of the City Address has been moved west. Rather than at the DECC, this time a crowd gathered at Spirit Mountain's new Grand Avenue Chalet.

The setting was perfect for a pre-recorded address that focused almost exclusively on the future of neighborhoods that border the St. Louis River: Lincoln Park, West Duluth, Irving, Fairmont, Fremont, Norton Park, Smithville, Riverside, Morgan Park, Gary New Duluth, and Fond du Lac.

In the video, Ness said talk about improving the St. Louis River corridor started five years ago, and it's been kept quiet. Now action is being taken with land and water cleanup, as well as infrastructure improvements. 

"The stars are aligning," Ness said. "This is our moment to create a different future for these neighborhoods and Duluth."

Between 2010 and 2015, he said the St. Louis River communities will receive $290 million in public investment, which doesn't include $90 million in repairs to Interstate 35, or flood recovery efforts. Ness said task before the city now is to leverage the improvements into private investment and job creation.

Improvements will lead to "tremendous job growth" across multiple sectors," he said, with opportunities to create light industrial and skilled manufacturing jobs. Ness also hopes the area becomes a tourist destination - much like Canal Park - but based on free, healthy activities for families like hiking, biking and canoeing.

"Instead of spending millions to build expensive tourist attractions, we'll invest in quality experiences that can be enjoyed by both visitors and locals."

According to Ness, the city also needs to be aggressive in showing that the area is a great choice for young home buyers. He said "if we don't, I worry that we'll see property values decline, increased conversion into rental properties, and seniors who will struggle to sell their homes when the time comes. Fifteen years ago, Lakeside and Lester Park faced this same demographic challenge. A large percentage of those homes were owned by seniors. Today, the neighborhoods are booming and have become a magnet for young families. As our economy grows, we have the same opportunity in the St. Louis River neighborhoods."

Ness said the city has a series of proposals at the Minnesota Legislature this session that, if passed, will put Duluth on the "fast track to making this vision a reality, spurring millions of dollars of private investment, and allowing this vision to be realized by the end of the decade."

In the remaining portion of the address, Ness called for the creation of 1,000 new or renovated rental units in the next three years, then nearly double in the following three years.

He also took some time to highlight accomplishments of 2013. He praised work done by police leading to the removal of synthetic drugs and the Last Place on Earth from downtown Duluth. Also on the list:

  • Unemployment dropped to 4.6 percent
  • Property taxes for city services decreased for the first time in 14 years
  • Standard & Poors raised Duluth's bond rating to AA
  • The city received more than $10 million in flood recovery money
  • Aviation company AAR created 279 jobs in one year, which is 79 more than they expected to create in triple the time

Looking ahead, Ness said finalized development agreements and construction plans will result in 2014 being one of the busiest construction seasons in Duluth's history, including over $200 million of total investment.

Unlike in past years, Ness didn't talk much about street improvements. He only said that city councilors are working on a repair funding plan that will be unveiled in the coming months.

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