City of Duluth lays out plans for reinvestment in Spirit Mountain | www.WDIO.com

City of Duluth lays out plans for reinvestment in Spirit Mountain

Ryan Juntti
Updated: May 06, 2021 11:07 PM
Created: May 06, 2021 04:57 PM

Spirit Mountain has gone through its fair share of financial woes over the years, but on Thursday, Duluth city leaders laid out how they plan to reinvest in it with the goal of getting it back on track.

The city is proposing to launch a $24 million capital reinvestment program.

Of this, 50% would be funded by state bonding, 25% by the city from tourism taxes, and 25% by Spirit Mountain itself.

This comes after a report from a task force found that Spirit Mountain brings in $22 million annually to the City of Duluth.

As part of the reinvestment, there will be a number of capital projects as well, including:

  • Renewing winter skiing and riding infrastructure to provide a better service at a lower cost for skiers and snowboarders.
  • Complete the Nordic skiing and mountain biking trail systems.
  • Renew and modestly expand summer Adventure Park activities to add a high ropes course, replace the mini-golf course, and renew the coaster.
  • Renew "deteriorated" Skyline Chalet and campground infrastructure.
  • Connect Spirit recreational facilities to the larger city and state recreational facilities, including the zoo, the Munger Trail, the DWP Trail, and the National Water Trail.

"The capital projects would improve the economic impact, community benefit, and financial performance of Spirit Mountain," a news release from the City of Duluth said.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson says she believes this is an investment that will be worth it in the long run.

"The opportunity for the city and for Spirit to invest in the property, and all of its assets really is now, and it's one that I truly, truly believe will pay off. Based on the report that is public, and the efforts of the task force, and the SE group, these direct improvements will increase Spirit's economic impact to an estimated $39.9 million annually. It would increase the number of visitors by 50,000 a year to 300,000 per year, would create an additional 205 new jobs," said Larson.

Larson says she will be working with the city council to include Spirit Mountain in bonding requests for next year.

If funded, the goal would be to start the capital projects in 2023.

The city council next week will also consider a resolution to eliminate $900,000 of Spirit Mountain's line of credit with the city.

“Eliminating this debt will help Spirit plan for the future because it will allow the city to negotiate a debt repayment schedule while weaning Spirit from city operating subsidies,” Mayor Larson said in the release. “…the most important reason to do this is that another recommendation from the Task Force includes the potential to enter into a long-term operational lease for facility management…no reasonable operator would demonstrate even passing interest to take on the financial debt for an asset they simply do not own.”

The city will also be asking the Spirit Board of Directors to take on the following steps to improve operations, including: 

  • Increasing revenue from operations through modest price increases, ticket checking, and improved food and beverage services
  • Increasing the number and variety of users by collecting better user data, developing and implementing a strategic marketing plan, strengthening collaboration with the city’s destination marketing organization, and improving services for mountain bikers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and ice skaters.
  • Reducing greenhouse emissions by completely replacing the 1970’s electrical and lighting infrastructure within the building systems.
  • Improving the overall guest experience by fostering a distinctive Spirit Mountain culture of guest services.
  • Enhancing programming by establishing the Grand Avenue Chalet as the western Duluth headquarters for outdoor recreation information and services and revitalizing the snow sports school.
  • Lowering barriers to recreating at Spirit by revitalizing partnerships with youth-serving organizations and schools, conducting special lower-cost "Spirit Loves Duluth" days, and soliciting grants and donations to pay the cost to waive or reduce fees.

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Ryan Juntti

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