Recent headlines out of Duluth haven’t been pretty — except when they’ve been over pictures of the Tiffany window that the city may auction off to get out of a $6.5 million budget hole. City officials’ efforts to sell off another public asset — parkland along picturesque Park Point — puts Duluth in the same league as one of the Twin Cities metro area’s tiniest towns: little Lilydale, Minn.
That mini-municipality decided last spring to put up for sale a less-than-one-acre park parcel on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River as a way to erase its own $230,000 debt in one fell swoop. In both cases the properties had been donated as dedicated city parkland, but legal oversights left them vulnerable to re-purposing as cash cows.
Even amid sizable city layoffs, fire truck decommissionings, and library and school cutbacks, the sale of the parkland and the Tiffany window have attracted attention as marquee public assets, the sale of which would be key money-makers in the effort to balance the city’s budget. Duluth councilors put off a decision on the window Monday but voted to rezone the parkland for residential development, hoping to unload the 425 feet of Lake Superior frontage for $1.5 million. That’s half the world-record $3 million take they expect to get for “Minnehaha,” the Tiffany window.
“Minnehaha” will head to an auction house for an October sale if no local buyer comes forward by Sept. 17. Environmental groups don’t have much more time to seal a deal for the parkland, and the city’s rezoning action may have upped the pricetag beyond the reach of nonprofit purses. The state Department of Natural Resources, which already owns 18 acres of forest on Park Point, has so far demurred on buying the property.
Park Point native and current resident Jake Kapsner tells the Minnesota Independent that he understands the difficult financial position Duluth Mayor Don Ness and city councilors find themselves in, as they make cuts in basic city services. But still, Kapsner said, he wonders about selling off public assets like parkland and art: “What do you get rid of to solve [what may be] temporary situations?”