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Duluth designates historic arts & theater district

The city of Duluth will now feature and promote an officially designated historic arts and theater district.

By an 8-1 vote, the Duluth City Council passed a resolution Monday night dedicating a nine-block stretch of both East Superior Street and East Michigan Street as a haven for the performing, visual and culinary arts. The district will be bounded by Lake Avenue on the west and Ninth Avenue on its eastern end.

Among the district's attractions will be the soon-to-be-restored NorShor Theatre, the Fitger's complex, Tycoons, Zeitgeist Arts, the Temple Opera building, Greysolon Plaza, the Technology Village building, Carmody Irish Pub, the Electric Fetus, the Sheraton, the Pickwick, the Wieland Block, the Duluth Trading Co., Coney Island and the Fannie Rose Building.

Sharla Gardner, the 3rd District city councilor who introduced the resolution, said the wishes of local businesses were the driving force behind the measure.

"Most everyone wanted to rebrand the business district, instead of just calling it 'Old Downtown,' as people have in the past," Gardner said.

Rod Raymond, who owns three businesses in the neighborhood — Tycoons, Fitger's Brewhouse and Redstar — as well as the former Carlson bookstore, said he and other people with entertainment venues there "are struggling with rebranding after the Last Place on Earth nuisance took place in the past few years," making reference to a now-shuttered but notorious head shop, which did a bumper business selling synthetic drugs.

The resolution calls on city administration to allocate $10,000 from Duluth's parking fund to be used for signs to promote the district and also requests that the city rename its parking structure at 125 E. Superior St. the HART ramp, short for Historic Arts & Theater District.

"We want to clearly identify the ramp as being for HART District parking, not just for people going to the casino," Gardner said.

She predicted the city can benefit from better highlighting its cultural scene.

"When people talk about economic development, they often limit the discussion to things like manufacturing and small businesses, which I'm all for. But it's important to remember that when you have a thriving artistic community that can bring in a lot of positive development, too," Gardner said.

Raymond said signs alone won't cut it.

"I want to talk about what this really means. It's not just flags on poles or a banner or a lit sign on a parking ramp. It's a commitment by our city officials that we are going to entertain and encourage businesses to bring art, theater and entertainment to that district," he said.

While the council was generally supportive of the resolution naming the district, 4th District Councilor Howie Hanson cast the sole vote against it. He noted that his attempts to name a couple of ball fields in his own district in honor of local coaches have been bogged down in lengthy review protocol.

Hanson contrasted his own experience with the process used to create the Historic Arts and Theater District, saying: "It seems like we're following two sets of rules here, and it feels very unfair."

In other action:

• The Duluth City Council voted 8-1 in support of a resolution requesting that St. Louis County and city officials work together to preserve Park Point's Pontliana Woods in its natural state, with 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle voting in dissent after noting that the city has 132 parks already.

• The council also voted 8-1 in favor of rezoning a property at 2421 London Rd. from R-1 Residential to Mixed Use-Neighborhood, allowing a single-family home to be converted into a mental health counseling office. Councilor Joel Sipress, who represents Duluth's 2nd District, called the decision "one of the most difficult issues I've faced on the council." But said he believes the business can fit with the neighborhood and observed: "It's hard to imagine a less intrusive commercial use than what's being proposed." Hanson cast the only vote against the zoning change, noting the strong opposition of residential neighbors. "I'm proudly going to vote 'no,'" he said. "This is an example of the council not listening to neighbors."

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