Mayor Larson Outlines Recommended Plan for Next Steps at Spirit Mountain

Mayor Larson

DULUTH, Minn. – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson announced during a Thursday press conference her recommendations for the next steps in supporting Spirit Mountain Recreational Area.

The mayor’s proposed plan includes launching a $24 million capital reinvestment program funded 50% by state bonding, 25% by the City from tourism taxes, and 25% by Spirit Mountain.

“Now is the time to do this with Spirit Mountain,” Mayor Larson said. “No more Band-Aids. It’s ready for a good fix. There is a saying, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” So, let’s get into it.”

The capital projects would improve the economic impact, community benefit, and financial performance of Spirit Mountain.

“We are treading into the physically dangerous and highly litigious territory by not addressing the decades-old debilitating physical assets here at Spirit,” Mayor Larson said.

According to the mayor’s office, the capital projects would include:

  • Renew winter skiing and riding infrastructure to provide a better service at a lower cost for skiers and snowboarders. This would generate the profits to enable Spirit to lower or remove financial barriers for those who would otherwise be unable to participate.
  • Complete the Nordic skiing and mountain biking trail systems to solidify their status as regional destinations and continue to broaden the number and variety of Spirit users.
  • Renew and modestly expand summer Adventure Park activities to add a high ropes course, replace the mini-golf course, and renew the coaster and generate the profits that support other Spirit activities with lower financial barriers to participation
  • 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 proposed improvements would increase Spirit Mountain’s economic impact from $22 million annually to $39.9 million annually.

Additionally, it is projected that the work towards these improvements would add 205 new jobs on the property and would increase visitors by 50,000 visitors per year.

The city administration has also sent a resolution to Council to eliminate $900,000 of Spirit’s line of credit with the City, a recommendation made by the Spirit Mountain Task Force.

“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. “…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 be asking the Spirit Board of Directors to take on the following steps to improve operations. These steps include:

  • 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.

The Duluth City Council will consider the resolutions on debt forgiveness and the predesign agreement at 5:00 p.m. on May 10.

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