Morris & Fellows, a company that has been involved in developing, redeveloping and rescuing significant projects nationally and locally, has proposed entering into a public-private partnership with Duluth to revitalize its downtown.
Cheri Morris, president of the Sandy Springs-based company, outlined a plan at a joint meeting of the Duluth City Council and Downtown Development Authority Monday (Dec. 17) that would initially focus on the Old City Hall Block, now referred to as “The Block,” but eventually involve other parts of downtown.
The Red Clay Theatre would serve as the anchor for a restaurant and entertainment district with retail shops, offices above the stores, residences, and possibly a boutique hotel envisioned by Morris and her team. The alley between Main Street shops and the warehouse would be lined with restaurants.
“We would also want to use the [former] parsonage and church sanctuary, she said.
“Almost all urban redevelopment is led by food and beverage and live entertainment,” according to Morris.
The revitalized block would appeal to young professionals and empty nesters, who want walkability and want to live in downtowns, Morris said.
Morris was accompanied by two real estate experts and a construction manager.
“We think you have a goldmine in The Block,” Morris told the city officials gathered in the Community Room at Duluth City Hall. The city owns the block of historic buildings bounded by Main Street, West Lawrenceville Street, Hill Street, and Abbotts Bridge Road. City ownership of the property is an advantage, Morris said.
When redeveloped, the downtown could have a value of $100 million, she said.
In the public-private partnership, Morris explained, the city would be responsible for infrastructure improvements and sidewalks. Her team would renovate the buildings and recruit tenants. “We carefully select retailers,” she said.
The Morris & Fellows proposal included the following elements in downtown Duluth:
- Eight to 10 restaurants
- 20-30 new shops
- 40-70 offices above the shops
- 350 multi-family homes
- 85 townhomes, cluster homes and single-family homes.
Morris predicted The Block could be open for business by New Year’s Eve in three years.
Morris & Fellows “saves history where possible and celebrates architecture,” Morris said. Sometimes new fronts and outside extensions are added to historic buildings, she said, and innovative signage is used, but the buildings are preserved.
Building heights would be staggered and would be limited to four stories, she said.
“We want to partner with the City of Duluth to preserve your history and usher in your future,” Morris said.
The Block would be the city’s catalyst project for more downtown improvements, Morris also said.
“The project does not include Buford Highway,” she said, “but it would improve as a result of the trickle-down effect.” The result would be better highway retail, she said.
Morris & Fellows has been involved for the past 30 years in projects in New York City (Grand Central Station), Washington, DC (Union Station), Atlanta (Lucky Marietta District), Minneapolis (Nicollet Mall), San Francisco (Pier 39), Colonial Williamsburg, San Diego (Horton Plaza), Fort Worth (Sundance Square), Rosemary Beach, FL, and Highlands, NC, (Old Edwards Inn & Spa).
Locally, some of its projects are located in Inman Park, Woodstock, McDonough, East Point, Sandy Springs, and Norcross among others.