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Downtown 'Mock-up' Stimulates Discussion

City officials, merchants, building owners and citizens gather in downtown Duluth to view proposed changes.

A mock-up of downtown Duluth improvements, including a widened upper sidewalk and a new lower sidewalk in front of Main Street shops and a “bump-out” in front of Steverino’s patio, stimulated discussion Monday (Feb. 18) morning between city officials, merchants, building owners, and citizens.

The improvements are being proposed to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly and improve shopper accessibility to stores as part of revitalization efforts. Adding three more sets of stairs from the street level to the upper sidewalk would result in a total of five.

The widened upper sidewalk, which would be created by filling in the brick triangles that protrude in front of some of the stores, would allow for expanded outdoor dining, vendor displays, artisan demonstrations, and street performers. Turning the vertical parking slots in front of the stores into parallel parking spaces has also been proposed by the city.

A decorative railing would prevent falls from the upper sidewalk.

The mock-up was constructed by Duluth Public Works Department employees on a Monday when most downtown stores are closed. The design varied from a rough map drawn up by the city previously in that it included the “bump-out,” and the lower sidewalk ran on either side of the new protrusion rather than the entire length of the storefronts.  

City Councilwoman Marsha Bomar, who had suggested the mock-up, indicated she preferred an uninterrupted lower sidewalk. Several merchants agreed with her.

City Manager Tim Shearer, who led the informal discussion, encouraged everyone to think about the proposed changes, provide feedback and suggest ideas. About 30 attended the demonstration.

“At the end of the day, it’s about creating a prosperous downtown where people like to come and spend lots of money so your revenue would go up, up, up and up,” Shearer said.

“Hearing from our downtown stakeholders is very important,” he said. “We want to make sure we do the right thing.”

The improvements can be done in increments, Shearer said. “We can try out things and see if they work.” The city might also want to consider widening the sidewalk across the street, too, he said.

As for the parking, Shearer said, “we can mix it up with some parallel and some vertical spaces.” He pointed out that better signage directing downtown visitors to additional parking was needed.

Horizontal spaces can also be made longer so that cars can pull in rather than having to parallel park, Bomar said.

The advantages and disadvantages of making Main Street one way were also discussed

Shearer noted that he had recently started tweeting to provide updates on downtown activities and revitalization plans. His twitter name is @TimShearer6.

The city is also organizing visits to other downtowns including Decatur on March 1 and Roswell on April 18. Downtown stakeholders and citizens are encouraged to attend with city officials.

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