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Historic Downtown Duluth Stakeholders Share Ideas

Duluth city officials bring downtown building owners, merchants together to discuss revitalization.

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.

Jean H January 09, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Duluth as a destination instead of a "drive-thru"... Like that the discussions are continuing and that those vested in the downtown area are getting to share their thoughts and ideas. We residents need to continue to support our local merchants too.
Maryann F January 09, 2013 at 05:34 PM
I would strongly caution against building more residential development. Existing housing costs the same as it did in the year 2000-2001. We still need to let prices catch up before flooding the market with more. Plus, I don't think the problem is lack of people living in the area. What would be great is to extend the downtown area across Buford Hwy and give that area a facelift, too. By attracting that traffic, more people would see that there's something going on. Oh, and a bagel shop/bakery would be awesome.
Marty Dorfman January 09, 2013 at 06:13 PM
I would like to see a list of names and businesses present at this meeting.
Dusty Graham January 09, 2013 at 08:02 PM
That's a good point, Maryann. I do believe that if downtown were a destination area that my property value would improve and I would be able to recoup some of my remodel/purchase costs. Improving existing property values should come before adding more inventory. However, from a corporate municipality perspective, Duluth had mulit-million dollar disconnect in the budget last year. In order to keep spending like they like to spend, they need more property to tax. I am excited about these developments, and am sorry I missed this meeting. I find it interesting that many of these suggestions have been suggested by merchants and property owners in the past and were blocked by Council and Staff over and over. Now these same ideas are being considered instrumental to change. I do have one suggestion. Close main street to parking. Expand the elevated sidewalks and create outdoor space that could be used for some of these curb-appeal improvements while at the same time getting rid of the cramped feel that Main Street has. Just a thought.
Greg Lindquist January 10, 2013 at 03:45 AM
Marty, Every Merchant and landlord on Main Street and the Historic District was invited. Some chose not to attend. Attendance was a very good indication that both landlords and merchants want change, improvements and a new direction for our downtown.
Skip Jernigan January 10, 2013 at 12:22 PM
dusty, the idea of making the sidewalks larger and even making a one way street was discussed at the meeting. I agree that something along these lines needs to be done! But what specific suggestions by property owners and merchants have been blocked by city staff and council? They all seemed to be on board at the meeting the other night.
Rich January 10, 2013 at 02:34 PM
As a downtown Duluth merchant and building owner, I have worked closely with many at city hall the past 3 years on issues related to the betterment of the historic district. I have found city hall and the majority of the city council to open to ideas and dedicated to the growth of the area. I was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting the other night but look forward to getting a recap from some other attendees.
Faye Edmundson January 10, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Councilman Billy Jones mentioned the one-way Main Street idea. He said there are some people in favor of it and others opposed to it. City Manager Tim Shearer said ways to improve street access to Main Street shops with the elevated sidewalks are being looked at.
Dusty Graham January 10, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Shelly Howard and Stacey Stamper had sponsors lined up and a plan to place planters in front of shops on Main Street. Council shut that project down and money had to be returned. They also had donated items and approval to create an outdoor seating area in what was the deadend alley behind BoB and FYI. Stories differ, but allegedly approval was given by the City Planner and after complaints by the mayor, a cease-and-desist order was written and posted on the worksite. That project also died. Now, these same ideas are being discussed like they are something new. They are not.
DavidE January 11, 2013 at 09:16 PM
I agree, we don't need a massive residential development. I would like to see the following. -Commercial allowed only up to the edge of the cemetery (on the City Hall side) -Residential beyond that point, only single family homes. We should push for all the homes to be super energy efficient (LEED or equivalent as a minimum, possibly). Homes must have a historic look, not new and trendy as it may not be the trend in 10 years or more and will look dated vs historical. I would suggest 1300-2200 sq ft homes on 1/8-1/5 acre lots with a 1-2 acre green space in the middle. The only exception to the above would be the lot between City Hall and the townhouses on Hill Street, restaurants could be there.. I would like to see the city re-route 120 over or under the tracks so it is not being shoved onto Main Street. Traffic will not equal more business. Buford and Norcross have kept the charm of their downtown areas. All structures should be limited to 2 stories above street level, and must match the architecture of the old buildings on Main Street. If we want to stand out from the rest, why do we try to replicate the rest? We need to be innovative and not sheep that follow the trends. More is not better, it might be better for the City in taxes, but not for the people that live here. Some people in the city think that we are Wall Street or 5th Ave in NY, not Main Street in Duluth, GA.

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