Vikings to Duluth?

With the snow-riven Metrodome as now as deflated as the Vikings’ fan base, talk of the need for a new venue for the team has begun anew. And at least one man sees an opportunity for Duluth to make a play for the purple and gold.

Perhaps prophetically, Christian Anderson sent the following e-mail to members of the Duluth City Council last week, in advance of the snowstorm that pummeled the Cities and took down the dome…

From: Christian Anderson
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 3:11 AM
To: council@duluthmn.gov
Subject: Vikings

HI, my name is Christian Anderson.  I”m a potential future resident of Duluth, and see much potential for future progression and population growth for Duluth.  As you could see in my subject heading for this e-mail, a Minnesota Vikings franchise location change is something I believe could be an integral component to putting this beautiful port city on the map.  Imagine national broadcasts coming back from commercial break to show television audiences vistas of the lake, shipping traffic, the skyline, etc.!  Maybe the best location could be at the waterfront location furthest to the southwest, where the city is currently considering public space options.

The current ownership of the NFL franchise is not making progress in rebuilding in the Twin Cities.  I honestly see this as a great opportunity to bring distinction, and direct massive employment and gigantic amounts of tourist spending toward Duluth.

Obviously if this was easy, all of Duluth would fall head-over-heals  with this proposal.  I feel that the city could serve itself well by establishing tax revenue for itself through the improvements in the waterfront district.  A possible paddleboat or ship replica casino near Bayfront Park could help, as well as many other ideas.

Another idea I have for giving Duluth a “cool” factor would be to do what it takes in order to establish a downtown UMD campus.  If a deal could be struck with the university to expand itself within or near the downtown core, I believe that it would encourage the kind of population that seeks a wide array of entertainment options downtown.

Christian Anderson

Clearly, Mr. Anderson isn’t afraid to dream big.

What do you think of his proposal that Duluth attempt to woo NFL football to town?

I still recall Duluth’s unsuccessful attempt to wrest the Viking’s preseason training camp away from Mankato several years ago.

Could the city hope for a better outcome now that the team’s fortunes on the field have crumbled? And would local residents be ready to bear some of the financial burden of a new stadium in return for the economic activity it would generate? Could be a tough sell. Please give us your two cents on this one…

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Conlan a finalist for Madison job

Mike Conlan, Duluth’s former director of planning and economic development,  has recently been back in the news as a finalist for a job in Madison, Wis. He’s in the running to become the capital city’s next director of planning, community and economic development

Until recently, Conlan had been serving as director of community and economic development for the city of Des Plaines, Ill., located due south of Chicago and in the shadow of O’Hare Airport. But he resigned from that post at the end of August. Shortly thereafter,  a local newspaper, the oddly named Journal & Topics, reported that Conlan said he had been asked by Des Plaines City Planner Jason Slowinski to step down ending three years of service. Conlan told the paper that Slowinski offered him no explanation.

When I reached him by phone this week, Conlan said he continues to make his home in Des Plaines, although he also owns a residence in Duluth.

Conlan referred to the Madison job as “a premiere position” and confirmed that he was still a finalist to the best of his knowledge.

Initially, Conlan was one of two finalists named for the job. But the other candidate, Mark Barbash, withdrew after it came to light that he had left his prior job under extreme duress. Barbash had served as chief economic development officer for the Ohio Department of Development until the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Internal Revenue Service was after him for $146,000 in back taxes and penalties.

Rather than simply hire Conlan, however,  Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz decided to broaden the search and interview two additional finalists, according to Dean Mosiman of the Wisconsin State Journal. Mosiman was the one who first tipped me off to Conlan’s status as a finalist for the job in Madison. He called me in the course of doing some background checking on Mike.

Conlan served as Duluth’s director of planning and economic development under Mayor Gary Doty. He left the post after Herb Bergson was elected.

Mike said he’s not currently a candidate for any other jobs besides the Madison post. But at age 60, he says he feels too young to retire. Wish him luck. I did.

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Ness and Cravaack make nice

During his visit to Duluth yesterday. Congressman-elect Chip Cravaack met with Mayor Don Ness for a talk.

John Lundy, a fellow reporter here at the News Tribune, asked Mayor Ness how the visit had gone and received the following assessment via e-mail:

“It was a good meeting.  I stressed our goal of achieving an active association at the 148th and some key issues surrounding regional development and the port.  He seemed supportive and expressed his willingness to assist us in those efforts.

“The only local project we spoke about was the Joshua Avenue extension.  I’m worried that this project could be dead if it’s not included in the next transportation bill, because the City cannot afford to build it ourselves.  I explained the problem of all the mall-bound traffic speeding through the neighborhoods and the very real safety concerns of the neighbors.  I know that he’s opposed to earmarks, but it is this sort of community priority project that we are in danger of losing.  Hopefully he will be willing to modify his position to allow him to advocate for modest, but important projects like Joshua Avenue.

“It’s important that we put the election behind us, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.  I’m committed to working with our newly elected Congressman because I want him to do well.  He seems sincere about his desire to help Duluth and I welcome his efforts to work on our behalf.”

After endorsing incumbent Congressman Jim Oberstar, it may take a bit of bridge-building for Ness to establish a solid relationship with Cravaack, but it’s worth the effort. Duluth can hardly afford to sit on the sidelines.

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Test lights

My rant yesterday  regarding constantly-lit holiday lights at the Civic Center prompted a response from Pakou Ly in defense of the city.
Apparently, there’s a sensible explanation, and this is a temporary situation.
Ly wrote:  “The lights are on in the Civic Center, First Street and Superior Street in an effort to trouble shoot circuitry leading to the lights. We have electricians in all of these areas correcting power supply to the newly acquired decorations and the conversion to LED in an effort to reduce power consumption. All decorative lighting is fed from the street light circuits. The only way we know how to verify circuit conductivity is by having the lights on.”
There you go.
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Lighten up

Okay. Clearly Duluth has aspirations of becoming the upper Midwest’s take on the city of lights, what with Bentleyville and all the holiday illuminations festooned around town.

It looks pretty and all, but do we need to leave the lights on all day? All this week, strings of lights in the bushes of the civic center have remained lit in broad daylight, and that strikes me as a bit wasteful.

I don’t fault anyone for trying to make the city look a little more festive and befitting of its “Christmas City of the North” title, but leaving lights burning in the noonday sun is just plain wasteful in my book. Why not put the lights on a timer or something?

Alternatively, let’s stop the lip service about being a “green” city.

We deserve a stockingful of coal for our hypocrisy. Maybe we can forward it to Boswell for a bit more candlepower.

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City braces for more cuts

Now that the dust from the election is beginning to settle a bit, we’re all left to consider the implications of the outcome. And those in city government could face some hard realities.

“I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams expected both the House and Senate to flip,” said Councilor Todd Fedora of the power shift that has happened in the state legislature.

There’s even the possibility that the governorship could swing Republican, too, depending on the outcome of the pending recount.

In this increasingly conservative environment, Fedora recently asked City Administrative Officer Dave Montgomery whether the city would be prepared if state government announced more cuts in local government aid, come 2011.

The same thought had clearly crossed Montgomery’s mind.

“We already have $1.5 million in cuts baked into the budget,” he said.

While he had hoped that would be enough, Montgomery told the council that in light of the recent election results, he’s now working on contingency plans to absorb up to $4 million in reduced state aid.

Details of that plan have yet to be shared. But all of Duluth is likely to feel the pain. And it’s unlikely there will be any money in the budget to return the  library to more regular hours of operation.

Meanwhile, Councilor Sharla Gardner thinks there may be a local solution to recent or pending additional cutbacks in library hours. She said she’s still quite serious about trying to get a referendum on the ballot next year that would allow Duluthians to decide if they’re willing to approve a tax increase dedicated specifically to support library operations.

It’s an interesting idea. But it also makes me wonder whether additional special taxes could be waiting in the wings for other valued city services the city may not otherwise be able to deliver in the future.

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Mayor responds to Clark’s resignation

Yesterday, we posted Penny Clark’s letter to Mayor Don Ness, announcing her resignation from the Duluth Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission. Today, Ness responded with the following letter…

>>> Don Ness 9/22/2010 1:24 PM >>>

Penny,

I am very sorry to hear of your resignation.  You have contributed your time, experience, and passion for many years on behalf of the city.  I value and appreciate your service.

Clearly the relationship between the city and the commission needs to improve.  I am hopeful that it will.  By focusing on direct, pro-active, and solution-minded discussions about preservation issues we should be able to avoid the problems of the recent past.  We need to find a way to resolve our differences respectfully and look for common solutions.  Too often, I saw both sides who refused to budge and who used the media to advocate for their perspective – over time, it wreaks working relationships.  Unfortunately, for those reasons the relationship was damaged and now needs to be fixed.

It is my hope that the HPC will be interested in re-establishing a constructive relationship.  I can assure you that’s my goal.  With a similar commitment from the HPC, the City stands ready to turn the page and to work on making positive progress to meet our preservation goals in Duluth.

On behalf of the citizens of Duluth, thank you for your service.

Don

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Preservation commission chair resigns, citing disrespect

After repeatedly butting heads with city administration, Penny Clark, chairwoman of the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission,  has tendered a letter of resignation to Mayor Don Ness.  A  copy of the  letter appears below:

Dear Mayor Ness,

It is with great dismay that I am writing this letter to announce my resignation from the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission. I have served as a volunteer on this commission for over 5 years and for the past 3 years I have been the appointed Chair. The DHPC is a commission of the City of Duluth and the reason that I am resigning is primarily because I can no longer work with or for City governmental bodies that do not respect or care about the importance of the City of Duluth’s Heritage Preservation ordinance that DHPC commissioners are asked to uphold. To me, this translates that city officials have little regard for the preservation and protection of Duluth’s rich history.

I took my position very seriously and was often met (as the whole commission was) with disdain as if I was the adversary when in reality I was merely upholding the law of our ordinance (and the Secretary of Interior Standards) which our City and County chose to ignore on the last two issues (the County Jail and the City Hall windows.) So I am choosing to ‘throw in the towel’ because ‘you can’t fight City Hall’. I will no longer allow myself to be treated with the disrespect that I endured-a disrespect that no volunteer should have to endure! It is unconscionable that the Council and employees of Duluth should be able to treat its citizens with such impertinence.

Since I was an appointee to the Commission by the St. Louis County Historical Society, my replacement on the DHPC will be appointed by their Board. I have informed them of my resignation and the reasons behind my departure.

City of Duluth, you are losing a hard working volunteer who cares deeply about the town that I chose to move to 30 years ago. Luckily, especially since I am in employed in a business with major tourist interaction, I still love Duluth and am willing to put my disappointments aside and let everyone know how much I love this City and its rich heritage! I can only hope that some major infrastructure changes and attitude adjustments are made so that the City does not have other volunteers follow my path.

I have asked the DHPC’s Vice-Chair Carolyn Sundquist to do the agenda and lead this month’s meeting on Tuesday, September 28th.

Sincerely,

Penny Clark

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YouTube video causes council flap

At Monday’s meeting of the city council, Sharla Gardner cued up a pro-library YouTube video for her fellow councilors.  She had just offered an amendment that could have boosted the city’s maximum allowable  levy by $525,000 — a sum that would make it possible to restore regular hours at the library, which has been operating on an abbreviated schedule due to recent budget constraints. A minute or two later, the video was stopped cold by council president Jeff Anderson, so the objections of councilors Todd Fedora and Jay Fosle could be heard. It was then that the words began to fly.

First off,  it may be instructive to view the video that started the ruckus. All apologies to Gloria Gaynor.

Library video

A clearly miffed and flabbergasted Todd Fedora lit into Gardner.

“This is something I’ve never seen before — playing a YouTube video for a city council meeting,” he said disdainfully.

In his objection, Fedora said the music video did nothing to further council discussion of the matter at hand. He also faulted the production for being one-sided, although I doubt he would have found the video any more acceptable had tax concerns been worked into the chorus.

Fedora sarcastically suggested that if future council meetings were going to become a venue for YouTube fare, his Internet-savvy children could provide the body with plenty of “real interesting” viewing.

Gardner responded, saying that the video was presented “in good humor.”

“I thought it would make councilors and the public smile a little bit,” she said.

In defense of the video, Gardner also said it outlined many of the valuable services libraries provide to children and the community at large.

“I think we sometimes need to lighten up a little,” she said.

Nevertheless, Gardner agreed it was unnecessary to continue watching the video if other councilors found it objectionable.

Rather than let the meeting devolve into bickering over the video, Council President Anderson suggested the council stick to discussing the maximum levy and take up the issue of how and when videos should be used in council chambers at a future meeting.

“This is one of those growing pains, as we begin to use more technology as councilors,” said Anderson, reflecting on the video incident after the meeting.

Anderson said that while a video might be appropriate to show at a committee-of-the-whole meeting or an agenda session, he was not sure they had a place in regular city council proceedings.

“As council president, I’ve  done my best to make sure people can’t pick on us for being out of line and crazy or our meetings looking like some kind of a circus,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re conducting the people’s business in an efficient and respectful manner.”

Back to the issue of the levy and Gardner’s proposal the maximum be increased to extend library hours…

Her motion failed by a 5-4 vote.

But Gardner said she was still glad she had brought the issue forward.

She suggested the idea might not be dead, saying: “Perhaps this is something we can bring forward as a referendum item.”

I personally would be glad to pay an extra $12 per year to get local libraries back to their regular hours. What do you think?

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Council rejects Verizon’s request for tower ordinance redo

The Duluth City Council rebuffed Verizon Wireless’ request Monday to revisit a cell tower ordinance the body unanimously approved on June 14.

Jaymes Littlejohn, an attorney for the cellular giant,  suggested the new city ordinance could invite lawsuits unless it is changed. He said the ordinance attempts to preempt federal law.

However, Deputy City Attorney Alison Lutterman advised councilors that she felt the ordinance stands on sound legal ground.

Littlejohn warned the council that Duluth could risk falling behind other communities if it makes doing business in the city too arduous and expensive. In particular, he faulted the city for requiring the same type of permit application  for a minor antenna upgrade on a n existing tower as it does for an entirely new structure. Littlejohn also suggested Duluth’s ordinance would subject wireless companies to potentially exorbitant consultant fees. He said that in some other communities where cell tower applicants were required to pay for consultant services, the  tab to permit a single project had topped $50 grand.

The ordinance requires cell tower applicants to place funds in an escrow account which can be drawn down to pay for consulting fees. After completion, any funds remaining in that account will be returned.

The threat of a permit costing tens of thousand of dollar is quite remote, according to Bob Naumann, a wireless consultant retained by Duluth. Naumann said he has been in the business for years and has yet to exhaust an $8,500 escrow account on any single project.

Councilor Jim Stauber unsuccessfully urged his colleagues on the council to pass a resolution of intent to re-examine the ordinance in light of industry objections. Verizon’s opposition were seconded in an Aug. 13  letter to the city from PCIA-the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

“I think it’s imperative to hear from all sides of an issue. But for whatever reason, the city did not invite all the players to the table,” Stauber said. “It was a one-sided decision-making process.”

Dave Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer,  pointed out that the ordinance was subject to public hearings in front of first the Planning Commission and then the City Council,

“Our administration believes providers had ample opportunity to bring their concerns forward,” he said.

The wireless interests had more than a month to weigh in on the proposed ordinance, said  Councilor Jay Fosle, who saw no need to backtrack.

Councilor Todd Fedora came to Stauber’s support, saying: “This resolution of intent doesn’t bind us in any way. I’d rather be open minded and listen to their concerns.”

Councilor Kerry Gauthier questioned Verizon’s  motives in retaining a lawyer to critique Duluth’s new ordinance after the fact.

“I think the industry is trying to save a buck by threatening lawsuits,” he said.

Council President Jeff Anderson favored at least considering possible changes to the ordinance and noted that he found himself voting with a couple of  uncharacteristic allies on the issue.

“This is something you don’t hear every day, but I completely agree with Councilors Stauber and Fedora,” he said.

Ultimately, however, Councilors Anderson, Stauber, Fedora and Tony Cuneo were outvoted by Gauthier, Jay Fosle, Sharla Gardner and Dan Hartman.

If a fight is brewing, I guess we’ll let the lawyers duke it out.

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