A new deal for Duluth's Old City HallAfter years of preparation, financing is finally in place to convert the historic building at 132 E. Superior St. into a restaurant and pub with a lively city founder’s theme. Construction on the $2.1 million project will begin in early May, according to co-owner Tim Nelson.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
It’ll be a busy, work-filled summer at Duluth’s Old City Hall. But by fall, it’ll be a new draw for old downtown.
After years of preparation, financing is finally in place to convert the historic building at 132 E. Superior St. into a restaurant and pub with a lively city founder’s theme. Construction on the $2.1 million project will begin in early May, according to co-owner Tim Nelson.
The building that served as Duluth’s city hall from 1888 until 1929 will be reconfigured into the Duluth Tycoons at Old City Hall, a restaurant and pub that will reflect Duluth’s early days when fortunes were made and the city’s big historic mansions were built.
“We’re going to have fun. We’re going to have a little secret society feel to it,” Nelson told a Greater Downtown Council gathering Tuesday.
Nelson and business partner Rod Raymond are major shareholders of Old City Hall LLC, which officially owns the building.
The new restaurant and other venues in the building are expected to open in September or October, though work on the building will continue until the end of the year.
Restaurant seating of up to 120 will be broken up into cozy sections and will even include a table in the original vault where really big deals can be made, Nelson said in fun.
The original City Council chambers on the second floor will become an events center that will seat another 75. There’s talk of having a real council meeting there, with Mayor Don Ness wearing a top hat.
Their greatest challenge, however, could be their plans to turn the cavernous, dungeon-like sub-basement with arched brick openings into a rathskeller (basement tavern). Among the names being considered for the subterranean pub is The Empire Club. That space also will be transformed this summer, Nelson said.
Brian Forcier, of the Atwater Group, was impressed.
“It’s absolutely great,” he said. “These guys have a lot of energy, which is great for Duluth. It seems every project they’ve touched has been successful, so we’re happy to have them in Duluth doing their thing.”
Nelson and Raymond’s hospitality business JTA Inc. also owns Fitger’s Brewhouse, Red Star Lounge and Burrito Union in Duluth.
They bought Old City Hall in 2005. They have already invested $380,000 in repairs, improvements and restoration work, including restoring exterior stonework, balcony and stone windowsills to their original appearance, using man-made stone.
But with $350,000 from the Duluth Economic Development Authority, pending DEDA and City Council approval, they will be able to do more.
The grant will allow them to restore the building designed by renowned architect Oliver Traphagen to mint condition. And that will qualify them for historic state and federal tax credits that they can use on their next project: refurbishing the former Carlson bookstore building across the avenue at 206 E. Superior St., which Old City Hall LLC bought last year.
That project is at least a year away. But plans are to put a café, pub and bakery on the Superior Street level, a brewery and tasting area on the lower level and a banquet room and event center on the second floor, along with a sound studio overlooking Lake Superior.
“We want to see that as a magnet for pulling people from Canal Park,” said Jerry Peterson, chief financial officer of JTA Inc, Nelson's and Raymond's hospitality business.
It also fits in with the city’s goal of turning the area into an arts and entertainment district.