Some Downtown Duluth merchants, building owners and citizens are questioning the non-reappointment of long-time Duluth Downtown Development Authority member Shelly Howard. A letter expressing their “concern and dismay” was given to the Duluth City Council prior to its regular Monday (April 9) night meeting, but it was not brought up by council members during the meeting.
The council reappointed Rob Ponder and appointed Greg Lindquist, owner of the Best of Brews, and Maxine Garner, a former city council member, to four-year DDA terms expiring in April 2016. No mention was made by city officials nor was it listed on the agenda whom the two new members were replacing.
Besides Howard, DDA member Ed Gulesserian also was not reappointed. Gulesserian may have decided to retire from the board. Howard served as DDA secretary.
Councilman Billy Jones recused himself from voting because Garner is his aunt.
The terms of all seven DDA members expired on March 10. At its Feb. 13 meeting, the city council appointed Pure Taqueria partner Bill Weaver to fill the unexpired term of Dennis Taylor, but only until March 10, 2012, the same day the terms of the other six members ended.
According to the letter, Howard, who was appointed to serve on the Downtown Development Authority six years ago, received a letter from the Duluth City Council April 5 informing her that she was not being reappointed to the DDA. “She was given neither reason nor notice,” the letter stated. “Since this is the first time in anyone’s memory (maybe the first time ever) that such an action has been taken, and because Shelly Howard has demonstrated both a strong personal and professional commitment to the city, we, the undersigned, want to go on record as questioning this decision.”
Her husband David Cossette and Howard own a building on Main Street where they formerly operated Sensibly Chic, an antiques and collectibles shop. The space is currently for rent. Seven years ago, Howard invested in two homes downtown on West Lawrenceville Street. They live in one home and rent out the other.
Howard, who has lived in Duluth 25 years, was instrumental in attracting Eddie Owen to the Red Clay Theatre where he is booking live musical acts into the city-owned facility. She previously managed the theater for three years.
In addition, Howard initiated several public art projects to promote foot traffic downtown including the “Dog Days of Duluth,” a violin exhibit celebrating a visit by French violinmakers to Huthmaker Violins, and the “Duluth’s Taking Off” balloon display celebrating the opening of new businesses downtown.
The letter credited her with re-establishing the Duluth Historical Society after a period of dormancy and upfitting (at her own expense) Second Stage, now New Dawn Theater Company. She was also a founding member of the Duluth Fine Arts League, the letter stated.
As founder of the Community Volunteer League, she was involved in developing plans and obtaining donated materials for a courtyard on West Lawrenceville Street. The league, which functioned under the DDA, is apparently now being dissolved.
Work on the courtyard was recently halted by the city after problems developed with the project. Also, the city is demolishing several downtown buildings including a covered alleyway that will become a walkway and include the courtyard. The materials obtained by league volunteers are slated to be used on the walkway.
Downtown merchants listed on the letter opposing Howard’s non-reappointment to the DDA are Huthmaker Violins, Luv for Art, Steverino’s Pizza, fyi Duluth design studio, Chattahoochee Cabinets, Sassy Girl Design, Focal Point, and Tie Dye 4. Citizens included Beth Moody, former owner of the recently closed Duluth Art Gallery, and her husband Glen Faulkner; Sylvia Brock, Jack Brock, Jennifer Freeman, Dusty Graham, Livette DeSousa, and Lucille Walker.
A footnote at the bottom of the letter stated: “Please note that several downtown merchants agree with the sentiments in this document, but were not willing to sign it, citing ‘potential reprisals by the city’ if they were to do so. Others because of the [Easter] holiday weekend were not reachable.”
Freeman, a downtown building owner and mosaic artist, spoke out against the council's action and in support of Howard during the time reserved for citizens to speak near the end of last night’s city council meeting.
Originally, according to City Attorney Lee Thompson, DDA members served six-year staggered terms. When the state legislature changed the terms to four years in 1994, it failed to carry over the language staggering the terms. To return to staggered terms the city council could appoint three or four members to four-year terms. The remaining members could be allowed to serve for two years without being reappointed. Legally, they could continue to serve and then be reappointed to four-year terms after two years had passed.
DDA members Ken Odum, who has been serving as chairman; Kathryn Willis, Ron Osterloh, and Weaver will apparently continue to serve without being reappointed pending reappointment in two years to re-establish staggered terms. Ponder has been serving as vice chair.
The DDA is charged with revitalizing and redeveloping the city’s downtown (central business district) and creating employment opportunities. The DDA has the authority to finance projects to benefit downtown and issue bonds. It also reviews potential projects and makes recommendations to the Duluth City Council.
The Downtown Development Authority meets the third Tuesday of every month at Duluth City Hall at 6:30 p.m.