Childcare, Parks, Downtown Safety & More: Mayor Larson delivers State of the City address

Childcare, Parks, Downtown Safety & More: Mayor Larson delivers State of the City address
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 10:09 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 11:01 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - Duluth Mayor Emily Larson gave her annual state of the city address Wednesday night in West Duluth.

This marked her seventh time delivering the remarks as Mayor.

Mayor Larson delivered the speech to a packed house at the West Theater in Spirit Valley.

The theme Mayor Larson chose for this year’s address was persistence.

That theme carried over into many aspects of the evening including the choice of the location for the event.

Larson began her speech by giving the history of the West Theater.

Built during the great depression, it sat vacant for decades, falling into disrepair until Bob Boone and local organizations persisted to get it renovated, so it could be used for current and future generations.

Then Larson turned her attention to the current state of parks and recreation in Duluth.

Larson said when the parks referendum failed this past election, it became clear that Duluthians loved their parks, but many are unable to afford more taxes to maintain them.

So she’s turning to the state legislature to extend the half-and-half tax to help pay for expanded park improvements.

“With the city council approval, we’ve asked the legislature to continue it for another 30 years. This will raise up to $36 million which we will use to leverage additional funds,” said Mayor Larson.

That extension would continue a half percent sales tax on hotel stays, and bar and restaurant tabs in Duluth.

Larson said the money will be used for more than just park maintenance, it will help pay for park-based athletic fields, courts, and rinks throughout Duluth in neighborhood parks.

Larson also spoke about safety in downtown Duluth.

She said the city has expanded programs including the CORE and SURT teams to address mental health crises and substance abuse issues.

Now she’s helping launch a new misdemeanor mental health court.

“Rather than being jailed or simply being released to re-offend, we aim to hold offenders accountable by connecting them with services and other resources to address their underlying issues,” Mayor Larson said.

She said that court will allow the city to reduce crime and help people who need care.

In terms of safety, she’s also focused on assessing the skywalk system and developing a comprehensive vision and revitalization plan for downtown.

Later in her speech, she announced she will be convening her fourth mayoral task force to help address the childcare crisis.

According to Larson, fixing childcare may mean looking for help outside city limits.

“Its charge will be to provide direction for a coordinated approach, identify useful city roles, and provide concrete next steps for what we can implement locally as well as collectively advocate for outside of Duluth, Mayor Larson said.

She said she considers the childcare crisis urgent.

To lead that group she’s chosen leaders with the Northland Foundation and Northspan, the same people charged with leading her housing task force.

She ended her speech by addressing the housing crises and the work that’s been done during her time as Mayor.

According to Larson, since she took office there have been over 1,700 housing units built in Duluth, but the work is not over yet.

The mayor also addressed infrastructure and broadband access, her effort to replace lead pipes in Duluth homes and more.