Spirit Mountain Task Force recommends city maintain ownership, make investments | www.WDIO.com

Spirit Mountain Task Force recommends city maintain ownership, make investments

Updated: March 09, 2021 02:24 PM
Created: March 08, 2021 05:21 PM

After about seven months studying the issue, the Spirit Mountain Task Force and a consulting group are not recommending the city sell the hill. 

Instead, they suggest further investment. 

Mayor Emily Larson wouldn't give her take on what she thinks the city should do yet, but she's ready to make the case that Spirit is worth investing in. The report found the recreation area brings in $22.4 million in economic impact annually. 

"I'm not interested in kind of having a fist fight every year just to Band-Aid Spirit Mountain," Mayor Larson said. "And that's the thing that's been most frustrating for me is that we enter into a public discussion that has the back-and-forth and it's tense and people are angry or they have opinions about -- and all of that's fine. But we're doing that over these Band-Aids. It's not even helping position Spirit Mountain to be really successful for the long term." 

The ski hill has asked for financial assistance from the Duluth City Council several times over the past five years. 

The task force found that the federal action that created Spirit Mountain makes it impractical to attempt to  sell. 

"The land use convenants, the legislative designations, the layers of funding that have been put in there do not make it something that you can just bring forward to the Parks Commission to have a sale and then move forward to the council to sell," Larson said. 

So the task force is suggesting the city maintain ownership, but there will need to be a decision made about who operates it. The three options recommended are:

  • City operation
  • Nonprofit operation or
  • Lease agreement

On the investment side, SE Group, the consultant, laid out three levels. It is recommending the city opt for the highest. 

  • Low: Skyline Chalet renovations, groomers, investments in Adventure Park, improvement in sales system
  • Medium: Lift improvements, investments in summer tourism activities, improvements to lodge and maintenance area, groomers
  • High: New lift, upgrades to beginner terrain, improvements to summer offerings, significant investment in Skyline Chalet and other infrastructure

Estimated costs were not provided, although the consultant projected a 77% increase in Spirit's economic impact if the city chose to invest at the high level. 

"There are so many entertainment things we could be doing there. There are so many more events that could be hosted there," the mayor said. "There is a broader vision that I think I am excited for people to want to connect with Spirit."

The findings were presented to the Duluth City Council Monday night. The mayor hopes to take action in the next several weeks. 

The full report can be viewed on the city's website

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