Leaders are outlining a carefully planned series of improvements, some of which have already been made:
The river has been undergoing cleanup over the last few decades. Plans are in place for another $300 million to $400 million in federal, state and private money to restore it and, by 2025, get it removed from a list of the most polluted areas around the Great Lakes.
The state has scheduled an $11.4 million project to redo Grand Avenue, also known as Hwy. 23, including adding more sidewalks and bike lanes and connecting the road to nearby bike trails.
Plans are in the works to complete the Duluth Traverse, a 100-mile single-track mountain biking trail, to connect the paved Willard Munger State Trail with the Duluth Lakewalk trail, and to extend the Western Waterfront Trail, a walking trail that meanders near the river.
On a smaller scale, a new city-subsidized chalet and entrance to Spirit Mountain were completed last year, connecting it to Grand Avenue.
Other plans include sprucing up river access points for canoers and kayakers.
Northeast Minneapolis resident Deb Ellis vacations in Duluth at least once a year, she said, but outside of going to Spirit Mountain as a kid, she has never gone to that area. Typically she stays in Canal Park, drives down Skyline Parkway and goes to local restaurants.
“It would be fun if there was more to do,” she said. “I would do some of that.”
Some private investors are poised to build inside the corridor, Ness said, and he’s hoping public investment would push them.
Paying for improvements
To pay for the improvements, Ness will propose re-establishing a recently expired half-percent sales tax on food, lodging and beverages that was used to improve Canal Park. The tax would generate about $1.25 million a year, but would require permission from the Legislature and a vote from the City Council.
Council Member Jay Fosle, who represents the western part of the city and calls himself the council’s only conservative, said he’s not in favor of reviving the tax. While he welcomes improvements, he said, he’d rather lure business there first to increase the tax base.
Others agreed that the revitalization plan sounds great, but said they’ve heard similar plans before.
“They don’t really seem to listen to the poorer people of Duluth very well,” said Dwight Morrison, a retired teacher who lives in nearby Hermantown and volunteers with the nonprofit Wheels On Trails. “I’m a little cynical.”
Some residents in the neighborhoods worry about drawing too much activity.
“I can understand why they want to do it, but for me that’s why I live out here is to get away from all that stuff,” said Rick Hinnenkamp, who has hiked trails there his whole life.
Carole Newkumet, a Riverside neighborhood resident who is chair of the Riverfront Communities Group, said she thinks most homeowners will warm up to the changes as long as they are consulted.
“The fact of the matter is that in order to lift that area of town … these things have to happen,” Newkumet said.