|City of Duluth’s theater shut down over accessibility issues
Earlier this year, the Duluth Economic Development Authority purchased the historic NorShor Theatre for $2.6 million. The city was “hoping to breathe new life into the historic theater” byspending $4-5 million on renovating the downtown locale. Events at the newly-purchased theater were scheduled to begin this month. That is, until the city learned about something called the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It turns out that the theater isn’t just “historic,” it’s horribly outdated. There are no first-floor restrooms and no elevators to reach the second floor, which presents an obvious accessibility problem, albeit one the city apparently overlooked during the purchasing process. Since this clear ADA violation was brought to city leaders’ attention a month ago, they have postponed all theater events indefinitely. In fact, because the city’s purchase of the Norshor Theater makes it a public building, they are now required to comply with ADA before they can hold any public events.
It’s worth noting that no official assessment or appraisal of the site was ever completed; three city councilors requested an environmental and market value assessment at an April 2010 meeting, but were voted down. Rough pre-purchase estimates were made based upon surrounding property and National Historic Theatre values, but at no point did the city address the accessibility issue. Now they’ll need to spend an untold amount on addressing these issues after the fact.
City leaders will have to answer many questions about the NorShor debacle in the coming weeks. But perhaps the most important question is why did the city buy the theater in the first place? Duluth, like many Minnesota cities, is struggling. According to Northland’s NewsCenter, “Duluth is slashing expenses through library hours, park funding, city services, and department staffing.” But they apparently found the time and resources to purchase an outdated theater badly in need of renovations, all at taxpayer expense.
City officials will likely state that the theater’s purchase and renovation are capital and economic development projects, which are not paid for by the city’s general fund. That’s fair. Just as it’s fair to argue that any city that spends millions of taxpayer dollars on poorly conceived pet projects has no business blaming others for its own budget woes.
What will November mean for the conservative movement? Find out October 25
Remember to register for the FFM’s October event, featuring John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber!
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FFM Follow-Up: Blue Earth airport
KSTP 5 Eyewitness News is reporting that the City of Blue Earth will receive $2 million of federal funds for municipal airport upgrades. FFM first became involved with the project in March when city officials were pursuing $7 million in federal funds to upgrade and expand the airport’s rarely used runway.
As FFM reported at the time: “To justify the expense of building a longer runway, the FAA requires airports to demonstrate they have the potential for at least 500 annual take-offs and landings of larger aircraft. Yet in 2009, the city’s revised survey now states there were only 28 such take-offs and landings at Blue Earth Municipal Airport.” In the wake of criticism from FFM and others, both city and federal officials have agreed to rein in the project.
Read FFM’s original report on Blue Earth.