Herb W. Bergson's State of the City Address
Good evening. Welcome to the annual State of
the City Address.
Granite Works is another business that is poised for growth. When complete, this project will mark the first new manufacturing project on the former Atlas Cement site. All these businesses have had, and will continue to have, our encouragement and support.
Soon, we will welcome a new air carrier to Duluth - Allegiant Air, which will provide direct service between Duluth and Las Vegas. We hope this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship with this airline and we are happy to have them here.
Jacqui and I will be on their grand opening flight on Wednesday, which marks our 20th wedding anniversary. We are proud to share that occasion with Duluth's newest company. We also are hopeful that direct service between Duluth and Orlando, Florida, may soon be here.
A remodeled stretch of Grand Avenue was completed this summer. A Streetscape and street reconstruction project has given a lift to that vibrant business area. More work next year on Central Avenue and a private sector mixed use development will add to the exciting renaissance in Spirit Valley.
There has been tremendous progress at Spirit Mountain under its new director, Renee Appel Mattson. Occupancy at the campground was up eight percent last year, season ski pass sales are up $90,000 from one year ago, and Spirit Mountain just had the best December in its history. The chalet has been remodeled, and this has meant more banquet and meeting business. I congratulate Renee and her staff on an outstanding first year.
Next week, we will have another new attraction unveiled in the form of "The Edge," Duluth's first water park. This will not only be a great new way to provide fun and safe recreation for our children, but also a great economic development tool.
The Goldfine family has generously agreed to sponsor a free party for 200 children from local group homes and assistance agencies. This gift is appreciated and I thank them for this kind gesture to the children of our city. At this time I wish to recognize Edge General Manager Lee Ann Joins.
And while we're building, we're also tearing down. Thanks to our Office of Building Inspection and our Fire Department, a longtime blight at the corner of Garfield Avenue and Superior Street - at the gateway to Lincoln Park - is now gone, and we're excited about the possibilities there. We will do all we can to remove eyesores and improve areas ripe for growth.
In 2005, we also worked to retain business. No business could be more important than our 148th Fighter Wing. This year we came together to help save our Duluth-based fighter wing from closure. It was a proud moment in our city’s history and I am pleased to have been a part of it.
But there is another project, still on the drawing board, which will require our full attention. Our top priority for this Legislative session is to secure state support for another expansion at the DECC.
We seek a new home for the UMD hockey programs, in line with those received by the Twin Cities campus. The resulting flexibility could help attract even more arena events. I urge you to support the proposed ¾ percent food and beverage tax on bar and restaurant food to pay for our match in this 67 million dollar project.
According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Duluth's unemployment rate dipped to 3.9 percent in October 2005. That is better than the national average, and has been for twenty of the last twenty-one months.
DEED also reports that Duluth had 63,270 non-agricultural jobs in October 2005. That is the highest figure in our history and is the sixteenth straight monthly increase from the same month in the prior year.
At our request, the Blandin Foundation has agreed to host Leadership Training sessions for Duluth’s rising citizens. This is a coup and the first time the foundation has used its resources for such training for the benefit of citizens of the city of Duluth.
Also during 2005, Duluth collected $11.1 million in sales taxes - up four percent from last year and the largest amount ever collected. Tourism taxes amounted to $5.03 million, up two percent from last year and once again, the highest amount ever collected. That means our attempts to attract more visitors by offering more events and being more welcoming are working!
I wish I could go into detail tonight about who will be performing during Fourthfest weekend, but as yet, I am unable. However, rest assured this will be another banner year for entertainment at Bayfront. Also, watch for new music events at Leif Erickson Park and downtown.
Visit Duluth just completed a survey that asked people from outside our area what they think of our city.
The results were staggering. An amazing seventy-five percent of visitors said Duluth was their primary destination and sixty percent had been here three or more times in the last three years. Visitors now stay an average of three days, a full day's increase from just six years ago. Fewer visitors said they were coming to see relatives - meaning they came here to see more of Duluth's beauty and excitement. I believe that's welcoming.
However, it is not acceptable to pick and choose which visitor groups are welcome and which citizens may move into our city. Not skin color, income level, previous city of residence, religious beliefs nor sexual orientation will determine whether or not someone is welcome in Duluth. All law-abiding people are welcome here.
However, being a welcoming place for visitors is different than being a welcoming place for citizens. I believe we must accomplish both.
We will be welcoming by providing good housing. We've done great work on low and moderate income housing.
To those who say that working on such projects has limited economic impact, I can say this: 2005 projects in the Housing 1000 initiative have already provided over $9.2 million in economic impact to Duluth and a net gain of 46 housing units through the first six months of 2005.
The Matterhorn Development will add housing behind the mall. It is part of the HOPE-VI project, which means that affordable and low-income housing will be available in a different part of Duluth. Project work also continues in the Harbor Highlands area. The result will be a completely new and revitalized neighborhood. Seven low-income individuals from the area had full-time jobs this summer rebuilding that neighborhood.
Village Place, a 55-unit project near the hospital district, has accomplished many of the same objectives. It now provides 38 affordable and 17 market-rate housing units in a great location.
The Anda Building is again on track, which will provide long-awaited housing in the hillside area. It sat as a haven for pigeons and skunks for 8 1/2 years, but thanks to Fire Marshall Erik Simonson and our Office of Building Inspection, it is now back on track and will soon be open.
Condominium projects in the old Duluth Water and Gas Building and the Bridgeman-Russell building will also provide downtown housing, one of our long-held goals. One exciting feature in the Water and Gas project is its environmentally-friendly green roof.
Work continues on the application for a Salvation Army Kroc Community Center. A formal grant application will be submitted next month. Hopefully, we will soon see a new facility for the Salvation Army and enhanced recreational opportunities for our children.
Last year, we lost Peterson Arena to a fire. The hockey community lost a needed building. Our hotels, motels and restaurants lost revenue from fewer teams in tournaments.
Since the fire, a group of hard-working citizens has been working to build the Heritage Hockey Center, a building that will help restore Duluth hockey's facilities and pride. Current plans call for building the center on the former Clyde Iron site. We hope the result will be a great facility which will benefit our youth and our economy.
Business and economy are important themes, but if you don't have a roof over your head, life's problems are much more basic.
The reaction from citizens in response to our call for action on homelessness was heartwarming.
Because our economy is improved with more jobs -because of efforts like Housing 1000 - because of agencies like the Salvation Army, CHUM, Women's Community Development Organization and numerous others, I have great news.
I'm excited to report that last year, homelessness
in Duluth declined by 14 percent. I want to thank Mayor's Committee
on Homelessness co-chairs Steve O'Neil and Joyce Kramer, as well as
the rest of the committee for their hard work. This Friday night, Dr.
Tony Campolo, one of America's most inspiring ministers, will be in
Duluth to continue our momentum right here in this building, speaking
on the topic "A passion for God, a hunger for Justice." I
urge you to attend.
Also, the City Council will soon receive a resolution
announcing our intent to allocate $100,000 of unused principal from
the Home Energy Loan Program to the Salvation Army's Heat Share program
and AEOA's Crisis Fund to assist low and moderate income Duluthians
in paying their heating bills. With energy prices rising, it is harder
than ever for those on fixed or low incomes to meet their obligations.
And I do know this: we absolutely, positively must share the pain to fix the problem. And we must do it now. Continuing to ignore this burden won't make it go away.
I'm not here to debate one point of view over another. I'm not here to discuss politics as it relates to this issue. I'm not here to discuss what has already happened. What is done is done. Tonight I formally endorse the recommendations of the task force and offer my energies to the city council to do all we can to fix the problem.
We must work with our unions, our task force and the City Council to find a lasting solution. If ever there was a time when we need to come together for the good of our city, it is now.
I commend the members of the City of Duluth Supervisors' Association, who saw the need and were willing to discuss the situation. Our major employee contracts are now open for negotiations, and now is the best time we have to make constructive progress.
I call upon the leaders of our employee unions to work with us on this vitally important issue. I know health care is important for everyone, and it's a key issue for our retirees. But the city our employees have served so well needs the help that only its employees - past and present - can provide.
We don't expect the burden to fall solely on the shoulders of employees, but we do need their support. We value our employees and are proud of the work they do so well.
We will explore creative solutions and speak plainly about needs and objectives. But we need to make sure that as we move forward together, we do so in a manner that will keep our city financially strong.
We need to do all these things without undue burden on taxpayers. While we tackle the retiree health care issue, we have other jobs to do in 2006.
We will continue to decentralize our police operation from City Hall into the neighborhoods. Obviously many key services will need to stay downtown, but our goal is simple. We will reduce response time to the neighborhoods, work with residents to identify and solve crime and disorder, and strengthen the bond between our police and our citizens.
This will involve moving even more officers into the neighborhoods where they can move the front line in this fight to a place where criminals don't want to see it - into their back yards.
Our first step is the construction of our new police station at City Center West. Ground will be broken in April. We also plan to move some police elements into the UMD neighborhood.
We will also hire a permanent Administrative Assistant to the mayor. I would like to publicly thank Julio Almanza for the outstanding job he has done in the interim position he holds.
For the last several years we have been working on the new Comprehensive Plan. We are about to embark on another round of necessary public meetings for that plan.
The plan is at a critical crossroads. We believe we can finish the project this year, but we need public support and public input to finish the job.
Meeting schedules will be announced soon. I urge you to find meetings that apply to you, attend them, and make your feelings known. We want to plan appropriately, and our citizens are a vital part of making that happen.
Also, the final report from the Downtown, East Hillside and Waterfront Charrette will soon be ready. At this time I would like to recognize Chuck Froseth of the Planning Department for his tireless work on this very important project.
This coming year, I need your help to raise awareness about another issue that haunts us; that of suicide.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth and the 11th leading cause of death nationwide. In 2003, there were 40 suicides in St. Louis County, and over 400 suicides since 1990.
Over the last year I had the privilege of meeting Rhonda Britten, star of the television series "Starting Over" and founder of the Fearless Living Institute. She is also a former Duluthian. This year, I hope to help raise awareness about this issue with Rhonda's help. I am also working with other mayors across the state in the “Yellow Ribbon” suicide prevention program.
What else should you watch for in 2006? New proposals for old downtown and the Bayfront. A variety of mixed-use opportunities in our charrette district and Spirit Valley, More new and improved retail near Village Place in the hillside, new plans for Spirit Mountain and new events and ways to generate more visitors for our great city.
We began exploring the value of being more responsible about how we treat the environment because we thought it was the right thing to do. What we have learned is that it is also the smart thing to do. Watch for cost saving and new revenue-creating opportunities in bio and eco-related matters in coming months.
But greatness comes in many sizes and shapes. This past week, Duluth lost a good friend. Retired police officer Dennin Bauers wasn’t just a good cop, he was a great cop. He wasn’t a good citizen, he was an outstanding citizen. Dennin Bauers wasn’t a good role model, he was an exemplary role model. I ask that each of you model your charitable giving after his. There wasn’t a charity or a child he met that wasn’t affected by his good acts. While he is gone and he will be missed, his legacy can live on through your generosity.
I conclude by asking you to re-examine your opinion of our city. Each year the mayor ends his or her state of the city speech by talking about Duluth being the greatest city in which to live. Of course, we all believe that's true, but as we leave tonight I would like everyone here, and everyone watching on television, to think about what the true measure of greatness really is.
A great city grows. It is a place of opportunity. It is fiscally responsible in how it operates, while remembering that all its citizens need to share the benefits government provides. And most importantly, it meets its challenges in the best interests of all.
We are many of those things already. Now we must take the next step - and I will lead in that process. I look forward to working with you.