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Local View: Check it out: Artists, entrepreneurs lifting up Lincoln Park

t10.11.2017 -- Steve Kuchera -- 101317.OP.DNT.KramerC -- The emergence of what is being called the Lincoln Park Craft District started with the massive conversion of the former Clyde Iron Works plant into the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, a restaurant and more. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

When was the last time you visited Lincoln Park's West Superior Street? If it's been a while, you might not recognize it. The area has shaken off its past of shuttered storefronts and abandoned industrial sites, emerging as a creative hub for artists and entrepreneurs.

Pam KramerThis weekend's Lincoln Park Open House will showcase the area's renewed economic energy, offering visitors and shoppers the chance to stroll through craft manufacturers, galleries, restaurants, and nearby gardens.

What visitors won't see is how that all came about — the foundation of local collaboration and investments that spurred the growth in the area. Lincoln Park is a model for how to leverage businesses focused on local craft manufacturing to fuel community revitalization.

Just over a decade ago, the contaminated site of the former Clyde Iron manufacturing plant at 29th Avenue West and Michigan Street was an abandoned eyesore that lurked just below Interstate 35 and dragged down the surrounding community. Today, after years of redevelopment, it is home to the Essentia Health Duluth Heritage Sports Center, the Goldberg Family Boys and Girls Club, the Duluth Children's Museum, and Clyde Iron Works restaurant and entertainment venue.

The rebirth was more than an isolated redevelopment effort. It was a turning point for the neighborhood. It proved that Lincoln Park could be a great place to live, work, visit, and shop.

The nearby commercial corridor on West Superior Street is a prime example. Since 2014, it has attracted a new creative class of entrepreneurs who have put down roots and sought ways to both attract additional businesses and engage residents in ongoing activities. They built the Lincoln Park Business Craft District.

The district includes a cobbler producing handmade shoes and other leather goods. Her shop is down the block from a folk-arts school and near a workshop for handcrafted canvas gear, which also includes an organic ice cream vendor. There is a microbrewery just a short walk away and a new pottery gallery located across the street from a barbeque restaurant, which opened this year.

In all, 18 new businesses have opened their doors in the craft business district, which is fast becoming a lively, walkable, shoppable promenade. Beyond its ability to attract shoppers and tourists, the district offers residents a new range of goods and services along with brighter, safer streets.

None of that happens by accident. I can speak to that firsthand, as my organization, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, has been deeply engaged in helping convene and fund organizations and programs that make up Lincoln Park's unique community infrastructure.

Advancing Lincoln Park is a cohort of local businesses working to attract like-minded entrepreneurs to the area. Its efforts are fueled by the Entrepreneur Fund, a business accelerator, and Ecolibrium3, a nonprofit working to engage residents and businesses toward an equitable and sustainable future. The city joined the effort as well, creating the Advance West Loan Fund to help bridge start-up financing gaps (it's providing the same financing in West Duluth) and to encourage entrepreneurs to open their doors.

LISC has been proud to support all of these efforts with grants, loans, equity investments, and technical assistance while also supporting broader efforts around employment, good housing, food access, health, and other quality-of-life issues.

There are still challenges, to be sure, chief among them the need for more jobs in the community. This weekend's open house contributes to that long-term effort, as more than 30 businesses and organizations showcase the value of operating and hiring in the neighborhood. They have dubbed the movement "#CraftingSomethingGreat."

That name is telling in so many ways. It says we can build economic opportunity in places once marred by blight and deliver the quality of life our residents want and need. Walk through or hop on the free Lincoln Park bus on Saturday to see what can be achieved.

Pam Kramer is executive director of the nonprofit Duluth Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or Duluth LISC (lisc.org/duluth/).

IF YOU GO

The emerging Lincoln Park Craft District is hosting a neighborhood-wide open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday with more than 30 businesses and organizations participating. Hop-on, hop-off shuttle buses will provide service throughout the neighborhood. Look for the green balloons denoting the businesses, organizations and others open for the event. The district runs roughly from 17th Avenue West to 31st Avenue West, between Michigan Street and Fourth Street.

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