Council Approves Funds to Re-Open Spirit Mountain This Winter, Tables Lakewalk Extension Talks

The Duluth City Council voted unanimously to fork over $300,000 to Spirit Mountain to help it re-open this coming winter, and tabled a resolution which would cancel work on the Lakewalk by Beacon Pointe.

DULUTH, Minn.- The Duluth City Council voted unanimously to fork over $300,000 to Spirit Mountain to help it re-open this coming winter.

Council also tabled another resolution Monday night which proposed leaving some homes and condominiums along the lake disconnected from the main Lakewalk.

The $300,000 to Spirit Mountain is to reimburse most of the $340,000 the Mountain spent on over the past few years on improvements for its lift system, snow-making machines, and the alpine coaster.

That money will come from tourism tax revenue through the hotel, motel, food and beverage taxes.

At the start of the pandemic, Spirit Mountain laid off all most all of its staff to help eliminate any further cash constraints on the attraction. Spirit Mountain has not qualified for any COVID-19 federal relief as a business because it is government-owned and operated.

Councilors Derek Medved and Roz Randorf  previously didn’t support the resolution, but changed their minds Monday night.

“A hill such as that would have more value being open and functional and also employ great people,” Councilor-At-Large Medved said. “And so I wouldn’t put a dollar on that.”

According to Third District Councilor Randorf, after weighing the cost of keeping the mountain closed with the money it could bring in to the city’s pandemic-damaged tourism economy this winter, she reconsidered.

“Apples to apples comparison — that $300,000 against paying back a season pass refund, paying unavoidable costs of operating whether the hill runs or not  — adds up to the tune of almost $1.3 million,” she said.

However, Medved does anticipate that the Mountain’s financial woes will present a slope too high to cross, and they will be back for more funding.

“Do I think there will be an additional ask in the near future for funds? I believe so. I believe there will,” said Medved. “Could there be a cold snap? Could COVID shut down the hill? Could the Governor order an overall shutdown again? Yes.”

And when that happens, he says he will be stricter. “So, this vote I will vote yes, but the next one I will reevaluate.”

Council recently approved $74,000 to hire a consulting firm to look deeper into the finances of Spirit Mountain.

The Spirit Mountain Task Force, led by Councilors Arik Forsman and Janet Kennedy, will come out with a report of recommendations about the recreation area in February.

An Interim Director is in place at Spirit Mountain, after the former director and General Manager — a husband and wife team — abruptly resigned without any public reasons.

Meanwhile, Council also tabled a resolution Monday which could cancel the construction and repair of a path between the Lakewalk, and the Beacon Pointe and other homes next to I-35 and London Road.

First, that measure would leave the Lakewalk in front of the Beacon Pointe Condominiums and Hotel disconnected from the main Lakewalk. It would also close the storm-damaged footpath in that area.

The City received $915,695 from FEMA after the pathway was battered by a storm in October 2018 — funds that the resolution would reallocate to repair the shorelines at Brighton Beach and the Marten Trail.

However the President of the Friends of the Lakewalk said the city didn’t tell them about this resolution right away, catching them off-guard.

“We routinely work with the city, we partner with the city, but this resolution was a surprise so that is the reason why we want to make sure we engage the city council as well as the administration,” President Jim Topie said.

Property, Parks and Libraries Director Jim Filby Williams said that the effects of COVID-19 were a large factor in that lack of communication.

“To some extent explained that the combination of reduced city staff and numerous pandemic-related crises is unfortunately diminishing our ability to do community engagement on some of these sorts of issues,” he said.

Filby Williams said the resolution would save Duluth about $2.3 million, allowing the city to repair the area around Brighton Beach and the Marten Trail without spending even more.

City Council voted to table that resolution until their next meeting.

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