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Communication, access set for Superior Street project

Chris Johnson, with the City of Duluth, uses a front-end loader to scrap and pile bricks from a section of Superior Street between Second and Third avenues west in June 2013. (News Tribune file photo)

Communication and business access will be key during the three-year, three-phase reconstruction of downtown Duluth's main street, community and project leaders said on Tuesday.

More than 100 people heard the finalized plan for Superior Street on Tuesday during the last open house for the project.

"This meeting is all about the transition from the design phase to the construction phase. So what we're trying to do is set the groundwork for the public to become engaged with the project, especially people who are down here on Superior Street, to stay informed and to understand what's coming up and how it affects them," said Brad Scott, project manager with LHB.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson thanked the Greater Downtown Council for its work advocating for Superior Street businesses and ensuring that they're confident they can get through the project.

"It is going to be three years. It's going to be challenging and it's going to be frustrating and it is going to be worth it," Larson said. "I want you to know that the values we're bringing into the process include being good communicators with you, ensuring that we're being really responsible with your financial resources, but also making sure that when we reopen downtown, we do it with activation in mind. We want people, we want pedestrians, we want storefronts, we want cafe space. We want what you want, which is activity in downtown."

Construction is expected to take place from April to October for the next three years, in three stages — from Sixth Avenue West to Third Avenue West in 2018, from Lake Avenue to Fourth Avenue East in 2019 and from Third Avenue West to Lake Avenue in 2020. The city will ensure the project continues on schedule by penalizing the contractor if it causes the work to be delayed, Scott said.

Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council, outlined several initiatives intended to help residents and tourists navigate the downtown area during construction. They've been focusing on ensuring there's alley access and providing additional signs for businesses on the segment set for reconstruction next year. More wayfinding signs and signs identifying entries to those businesses are also expected to placed in the skywalk, she said. Seven downtown Duluth parking ramps will offer free parking for the first hour throughout the project.

The city has created a website at superiorstreet.org where it'll post the latest information on the construction — including parking and the skywalk — to help people navigate, said city spokeswoman Pakou Ly. It's also starting a weekly online newsletter, and weekly construction meetings will be open to the public. In addition, the city will be using its Facebook and Twitter accounts to provide construction updates, Ly said.

The contractor will be required to maintain a 5-foot pedestrian walkway along the Superior Street segment under construction, Scott said. The walkway could be wood or metal, but it'll be walkable and accessible for people of all abilities, he said.

The contractor will only be allowed to close off a building's pedestrian access to Superior Street for three to five days when it installs new concrete in front of the building, Scott said. However, access will be changing often along the street as the work moves along, he said. Additionally, the buildings will experience temporary water disruption while utility work is completed, he said.

The avenues intersecting Superior Street will be closed as needed.

Scott also noted several difficulties that people can expect during the project. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning a reconstruction project on Mesaba Avenue next year, but it will keep its work to above Second Street for the first half of the summer to allow for better traffic flow while the intersection at Fifth Avenue West and Superior Street is closed, Scott said. The reconstruction of the intersection and plaza at Lake Avenue and Superior Street in 2020 will be completed as fast as possible in order to quickly reopen the intersection that year, he said. He also added that during the three years of construction, Grandma's Marathon will be rerouted where it typically runs along Superior Street through downtown.

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