The Duluth Art Gallery, which has been a center of visual arts activity in downtwon Duluth for the past four years, is closing. Owner Beth Moody, who last Saturday was selling fixtures and returning consigned artworks to artists, said she is having to vacate the city-owned space by March 14. Moody, a painter, and her husband Glen Faulkner, a woodturner, displayed and sold their art in the gallery, too.
The Duluth City Council has called a joint meeting March 20 with the Downtown Development Authority to discuss disposition of city-owned property in the Old City Hall Block. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at .
Moody was also selling furniture, fixtures and frames from Wallace Reid Portraiture next door since her son recently relocated his studio to Midtown. Both businesses shared space in a large building on West Lawrenceville Street across from the .
With its eclectic collection of art, the gallery functioned as a community gathering spot and special events facility. It often hosted meetings of the Duluth Fine Arts League. The gallery served as the site of DFAL’s “Arts at Twilight” last summer, the V.I.P. Party for Duluth’s 2010 New Year’s Eve Extravaganza, and the Duluth Fall Festival Committee’s Christmas Party this past December, among other events.
Moody said she had someone lined up to take over the entire space and continue operating the art gallery, but they were unable to reach an agreement with the city to lease the space.
The building needs an expensive new roof and floor repairs. “I think the city is going to fix it up and raise the rent,” Moody said.
Although she was teary eyed, Moody, who is in her 80s, admitted it was time for her to retire. “I want to paint and work in my garden,” she said.
The gallery and studio are located in the Old City Hall Block, bounded by Main Street, West Lawrenceville Street, Hill Street, and Abbotts Bridge Road. Almost all the property in the block is owned by the city. The building occupied by the Best of Brews on Main Street at the corner of West Lawrenceville Street is still privately owned.
The block is named for the Old City Hall, a former church and its parsonage on West Lawrenceville Street. The Church Ladies consignment shop and two other businesses operate in the former church. Sassy Girls boutique is located in the parsonage. The former city administration building, which suffered water damage in a sprinkler accident, is attached behind Church Ladies.
Next to the Best of Brews, fyi Duluth design studio, Accessorize Again and New Dawn Theater Company front on Main Street and rent from the city. Theater patrons enter from the parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Abbotts Bridge Road. Boudreaux’s Cajun Seafood Market and the Boiler Room face Main Street, but are set back and accessed from the parking lot. Boudreaux’s Café, now called Café Acadiana, recently moved to the Duluth Station shopping center on Buford Highway.
Most of the businesses in the Old City Hall Block pay discount rent amounts in exchange for maintaining and improving their spaces. Several have substantial investments in improvements. They operate with leases that the city can terminate in 30 days.
The city obtained the property in the block several years ago with plans to raze the old buildings and develop a mixed-use retail, office and residential complex. Potential developers faded away after the economy declined. There was considerable community opposition to tearing down the old buildings, especially the former church.
Council members and city staff recently visited businesses in the Old City Hall Block. The tour was conducted to familiarize new council and staff members with city-owned properties downtown, according to Duluth Economic Manager Chris McGahee.
For some time, the council has been concerned about the cost of emergency repairs it has had to make and potential future expenditures to keep the buildings it owns downtown functional. Another issue has been whether the city should continue its “band-aid” approach and collect lower than market value rents from tenants.
The city has considered demolishing the buildings occupied by Boudreaux’s Cajun Seafood Market and the Boiler Room and linking the front and rear parking lots to create attractive landscaped parking for downtown visitors.
The opening of the Pure Taqueria restaurant and the transformation of the Red Clay Theatre into a live music venue by Eddie Owen Presents has created a demand for more parking downtown, especially when multiple events, including New Dawn Theater productions, are occurring.