Beginning with a Ghost Tour on Wednesday, the Depot will begin hosting regular tours of the historic facility on West Michigan Street in downtown Duluth.
Mary Tennis announced the move during an interview with the News Tribune earlier this week. Tennis started in July as the executive director of the Depot, in charge of the St. Louis County-owned facility that eight other entities call home.
Tennis and the other organizational directors within the Depot have been involved in a strategic planning process since her taking over in July. Adding tours was a natural and easy move, Tennis said.
"It was so obvious from a visitors' perspective," she said. "This place can be very dense and people don't always understand where to go or what's here and what's everywhere. Feedback from tenants was instantaneous: they wanted a visitor experience that was transparent, so I thought tours."
The Halloween-inspired tour is being hosted in conjunction with the University of Minnesota Duluth Paranormal Society. Described by Tennis as "a pilot," future tours are certain to follow, she added, with popular ones repeating.
Tennis nodded to the popularity of tours at UMD's Glensheen and the success of the commercial Duluth Experience Tour Co. as inspirations to move the Depot in that direction. The position occupied by Tennis was created by the county board earlier this year with a mandate to improve attendance and coordinate among the tenants to promote with a common interest in mind.
Tenants at the Depot include the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, St. Louis County Historical Society, Duluth Art Institute, North Shore Scenic Railroad, The Duluth Playhouse, Minnesota Ballet, Arrowhead Chorale and Matinee Musicale.
Tennis has identified a tour programmer and is financing the duties using Oneida Commercial Real Estate Services, which provides maintenance, janitorial and front-desk services at the Depot.
So far, tours have been coming by appointment only, mostly school groups, Tennis said.
"I was getting calls for tours, too," Tennis said. "The Ghost Tour is our first formal tour. If it's completely awesome, maybe we'll do it constantly."
Tennis said scripts are being written for a variety of tours, including one that would highlight a woman's experience through the Depot. In the meantime, Tennis and the directors are also undertaking a longer-term look at the Depot. They're involved in what Tennis described as a series of "visioning" meetings and exercises that will be used to inform a strategic plan for the Depot.
"We're dipping our toes in the water, but it was just glaringly obvious and a very simple thing for us to do," Tennis said of adding tours. "It was low-hanging fruit that everybody wanted."
Tennis said tours will be guided out of her office, allowing entities to carry on with their business. She made note of a particularly special place she discovered during her own exploration of the facility, the Immigrant Waiting Room.
"I had no idea really how significant it was until I started here," Tennis said. "(The) room is very important. For one thing, it was actually an immigrant waiting room. It’s not just a room in the Depot that got re-purposed and called that. It is one of the only ones of its kind in a historic train depot that has been acknowledged as an actual immigrant waiting room."