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Face of Duluth gets a lift

DCN Reporter

From Canal Park to the east and west sides of the downtown business district, Duluth has gone through several renovations in its lifetime.

Just a few decades ago, Canal Park’s hotels and tourist-friendly lakewalk were nothing more than metal and steel in a scrap yard.

James Skurla is the acting director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UMD.

The bright Canal Park we see today used to be a dangerous place, said Skurla.

“The bay front was terrible,? he said. “Grandma’s was a legendary bar where sailors used to go.?

In order to improve the scenery and boost tourism, the Duluth City Council began discussing widespread “beautification? in 1966, according to “The Will and the Way,? a book on Duluth’s past projects by Manley Goldfine and Donn Carson published in 2004.

The first tourist attraction to be built was the Canal Park Museum in the Maritime Visitor’s Center in 1973.

After Canal Park was reconstructed, the focus shifted to the west side of downtown.

“Now that that’s done, they’ve moved further up the hill,? said Skurla.

Economic incentives and tax breaks for businesses drove the project, he said. Owners had to agree to stop their work so the buildings could be renovated.

For example, the Holiday Center was created over old buildings.

“Eventually they have a nice development and have cleaned up a crummy property,? said Skurla.

The reconstruction and revitalization brought excitement and more opportunities to shop.

“It’s brought new businesses in—that’s why cities do it,? he said.

One of these new businesses is Starbucks in the Phoenix Building on West Superior Street.

Built in the late 19th century, the Phoenix Building was first occupied by multiple businesses, from a drug store to a shop for imported and domestic cigars, according to “Duluth Illustrated,? a book by James Craig on buildings in Duluth that was published in 1890.

After a fire in 1996, it was rebuilt into the building you see today, said Kathy Marinac, a property and leasing manager for A&L Properties.

The property was leased to Gold’s Gym and then a pool hall before settling into the hands of Starbucks.

“Starbucks actually came in August of 2005,? said Marinac.

There are several other coffee shops in the area, including other branches of Starbucks.

But this location west of Lakeside is still doing well, according to Starbucks manager Dave Carlson.

Today, the focus of revitalization has shifted once again.

“Now the east side is changed,? said Skurla.

This section of the district has often been referred to as “old Duluth? because the east end of Lake Street was originally the heart of downtown.

The local historical society was displeased with the plan to create what is now known as the Tech Village, said Skurla.

“The Tech Village was to completely replace a stretch of old buildings,? said Marinac.

“A lot of people wanted to keep those stone buildings,? said Skurla.

The renovation on the east side has tried to preserve the “flavor? of old Duluth.

The Technical Village was originally going to be called the “Soft Center? for software developers. The internet went wireless and the name was changed.

The area was designed for technology corporations and it was hoped that the Tech Village would bring thousands of new jobs. That dream has not come into fruition.

Ironically, a pizza restaurant has flourished instead. The benefit of Pizza Lucé is that it has brought something to do downtown in the evening, creating an exciting nightlife atmosphere.

“That is why it was so important that Pizza Lucé be successful,? said Skurla.

In addition, residential areas are being restored.

In our Renassiance Project we are rebuilding the Wieland block, which is residential housing, said Marinac.

“They’re building condos and apartments back downtown … so they’re trying to revitalize it by getting people to live [there],? said Skurla.

In the future, there are still more changes to come.

“The next five to ten years is going to be really interesting,? said Skurla.