Duluth officials brought downtown building owners and merchants together Tuesday to share ideas about revitalization and obtain input.
Nearly every “stakeholder” in downtown attended the informal gathering in the Duluth Festival Center at which City Manager Tim Shearer showed a video presentation on “The 20 Ingredients of an Outstanding Destination” and led the discussion.
There’s a lot of community interest in revitalizing downtown, Shearer said.
“We’re all interested in seeing the economy come back,” he said. “And all of us want our businesses to flourish. We want our downtown to be the best ever."
The three-part video presentation was created by Seattle-based Destination Development International and featured the company’s CEO Roger Brooks. The “20 Ingredients” are based on a survey of 400 successful downtowns and downtown districts in the United States, Canada and western Europe.
Shearer presented two parts of the video presentation focusing on what building owners and merchants can do to turn downtowns into shopping, dining and entertainment destinations. The other part focuses on the city’s role in revitalization efforts.
City leaders are exploring ideas to revitalize historic downtown Duluth. Cheri Morris of Sandy Springs-based Morris & Fellows recently presented a proposal to partner with the city to redevelop the Old City Hall Block, now being called ‘The Block” into a dining and entertainment district to complement downtown retail shops. Redevelopment would initially focus on this block and later involve other parts of the city. The city owns most of the buildings on the block.
A possible boutique hotel and residential development would also be included. Having people staying and living downtown is an important part of downtown revitalization. Shearer said a potential location for future residential development, such as 300-400 townhomes and condos, might be the property behind the former church across from the city cemetery.
“This is what we’re thinking about and talking about right now,” Shearer said.
The DDI video presentation emphasized developing a downtown action plan or “to do list,” defining a brand, narrowing retail focus, clustering like businesses together, identifying and recruiting “anchor” tenants, attracting “pioneers” with patient money to invest in the city, and starting with a “demonstration project” that has a distinctive name.
Especially recommended was developing and maintaining consistent business hours including staying open later in the evening. According to the video, 70 percent of consumer spending occurs after 6 p.m.
Installing perpendicular or “blade signs” was suggested because they are more visible to pedestrians.
Other ideas included outdoor dining (sidewalk cafes), wider sidewalks, benches, and decorative lighting. Also, placing planters in front of shops to improve curb appeal.
Adding activities and entertainment including street musicians and artisan demonstrations were given as examples of ways to bring downtown to life.
“We can do this and more with the people in this room,” Shearer said. He estimated it could be done in five years if started in 2013.