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Great things ahead for downtown Duluth

The Norshor, expected to be complete in late 2017, will anchor the Historic Arts and Theater District. (Duluth News Tribune file photo)

As we welcome in a new year, I feel optimistic and excited about what lies ahead for Duluth’s downtown.

That wasn’t always the case. When I came into this position in the early 2000s, we were facing challenges in our downtown and we were often forced to react to unfortunate situations. From extremely high vacancy rates to large employers moving their workforce out of our central urban core, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Now, we have built the foundation for a stronger and healthier downtown. While we still face some challenges, we’re pleased to be providing resources to help keep the positive momentum rolling. And of course, the Greater Downtown Council will always serve as a dedicated advocate for our downtown businesses.

In 2017, we’ll look forward to providing results of an updated study on the demand for housing in downtown Duluth. Housing remains a priority for our organization this year and we’ve partnered with the Duluth Economic Development Authority to conduct such an assessment. We know housing is also a priority for the city of Duluth, and such combined efforts can make us a stronger community for our employers. And by conducting a study on the demand for housing, we will provide yet another tool for developers as they consider various projects.

The last time we took on such a study, it served as a resource for several new housing developments in our downtown. It also helped shift our market into a downtown that is not just active from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when the employees are here. It has brought about more pedestrian traffic and energy throughout the day and into the night.

I’m also excited about the success we have been seeing in the Historic Arts and Theater (HART) District. With renovations underway at the NorShor Theatre, this project will surely serve as an anchor to the HART District when it is completed in late 2017.

The GDC also has a strong desire to better activate Lake Place Park. This park, located over the freeway in the HART District, is a hidden gem. It provides green space and amazing views of Lake Superior, but we as a community need to create ways to showcase it better.

Finally, while Superior Street reconstruction will not take place in 2017, there is considerable planning work underway to assist our businesses as we prepare for the project in 2018. From improved convenient parking to increased marketing and special activities, the GDC is assembling a plan to better serve our businesses and our community during the street project. And, as always, this is a good reminder that it is important to support our local businesses. They are the thread that makes up the unique fabric of our community.

Downtown Duluth has a bright year ahead and I look forward to seeing you downtown!

Kristi Stokes

Kristi Stokes is the president of the Greater Downtown Council in Duluth. Contact her at 727-8549.