DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — A Duluth City Council member said the city has neglected the upkeep of some of its most popular tourist attractions, including a replica Viking ship, and that he plans to propose the establishment of a $50,000 annual fund that would go toward their maintenance.
City Councilor Todd Fedora said he plans to propose a resolution that would establish the fund at a City Council meeting next week, the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday. The $50,000 would be drawn from the city’s tourism tax, and the fund would be used for future capital investments in Duluth’s tourist attractions.
“I think this would be a prudent investment, given the importance of tourism to our local economy,” Fedora said.
Duluth recently set aside $370,000 from its tourism tax collections to complete a major makeover of Enger Tower this summer without tapping into the city’s general fund or adding to its debt. The iconic 80-foot stone tower has been perched on the bluffs overlooking Lake Superior since 1939.
Fedora said he applauds the effort to restore the tower, but that it’s not Duluth’s only tourist attraction in need of attention.
Councilor Jim Stauber pointed to a replica Viking ship — the Leif Erikson — as an example of prolonged neglect.
Bert Enger and Emil Olson, a pair of local philanthropists, bought and gave the ship to the city in 1927 after it sailed all the way from Norway. At the time, the city pledged to shelter and maintain the vessel. But Stauber contends that Duluth hasn’t kept its promise.
The ship now sits tucked away in a corner of the city park that was named in its honor, covered in protective shrink wrap, without a shelter, and has not been available for public viewing for several years.
“We’ve seen a number of false starts,” Stauber said. “But it seems to be a case of `out of sight, out of mind’ for that Viking ship.”
Neill Atkins co-chairs a group called Save Our Ship that helped restore the weather-damaged ship in the late 1980s. The organization also has raised $67,000 toward a protective structure for the ship, but so far, Atkins said, the city has not actively joined in the effort.
Enger Tower was also a gift from Bert Enger, who emigrated from Norway to Duluth and made a fortune selling furniture. The scheduled visit of Norway’s King Harald V this fall to rededicate the tower could finally give the Viking ship project some traction, Atkins hopes.
“Maybe the visit will be enough of a stimulus to get the city off its duff and help us,” he said.
Mayor Don Ness said Fedora’s proposal sounds similar to the strategy his administration used to build up enough money for Enger Tower and its surrounding park.
“I agree with the concept and philosophy of setting aside money with an eye toward future capital needs,” he said.
But Ness suggested it might be helpful to earmark the money for specific projects because when the city faces financial crises, there will be temptations to use the money for other needs.
City Council President Sharla Gardner said she, too, was receptive.
“I think it’s an idea worth exploring,” she said. “I would like to know a little more about how exactly it would work, but I’m interested.”
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