Spirit Mountain to Get Another Taxpayer Bailout

Think of it as the government equivalent of finding a bundle of cash stashed under the mattress.  The Spirit Mountain ski lift and recreation area, beneficiary of about $1 million in tourism taxes annually from the city of Duluth, has been closed for months due to COVID.

Despite millions in past subsidies, Spirit Mountain’s reopening and long term survival have been in doubt, given a downturn in Duluth’s tourism tax slush fund.

But what do you know? The facility’s future suddenly looks more promising, at least in the short run, thanks to a newly discovered jackpot of public funding, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Duluth city officials just may have figured out a way to scrounge together the funds it needs to get Spirit Mountain up and running again in time for skiers and snowboarders to hit the slopes this winter. Spirit Mountain has been closed since spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a Thursday agenda session meeting, Duluth city councilors discussed a proposal to tap a fund dedicated for recreational amenities in the St. Louis River corridor for the purpose of providing Spirit Mountain with the money it needs to resume operations. Spirit Mountain has identified several capital improvements that have been made since 2018 that would qualify for a reimbursement of up to $340,000 for ski lifts, snowmaking equipment and the alpine coaster.

Next week the Duluth City Council plans to approve $300,000 from the fund to open the doors again at the ski hill. Yet some elected officials have reservations about throwing more good taxpayer money after bad.

But Councilor Derek Medved expressed concern that Spirit Mountain’s requests for city aid will continue to mount.

“If they’re asking for startup funds in the amount of $300,000, I don’t even think that comes close to the amount they will be asking for next time. So when does it end?” he asked.

Where indeed. The city’s chief administrative officer Noah Schuchman suggested the city will just have to pony up again.

“If the Council chooses to not approve this item, the alternative would be to close down Spirit Mountain, and the unfunded obligations there are well past this cost,” he said. “So it is a choice essentially between spending… $1.5 million or $300,000 now to give Spirit Mountain the opportunity to exist and thrive in the future.”

The pressure’s now on the $74,000 consultant the city just hired to take the heat off elected officials and come up with a plan to turn Spirit Mountain around. But the editor of the Duluth Monitor isn’t holding his breath.

Spirit Mountain has been losing money for a very long time. The idea that another consultant will be able to change that is questionable, at best—however wonderful their reputation. More likely, SE Group’s report will simply inject the Council and administration with renewed optimism, and help them behave like all city leaders and elected officials who came before them: Paying whatever enormous sums are required to keep Spirit Mountain in business.