'All hands on deck' at Downtown Duluth's 38th annual meeting

University of Minnesota Duluth plans to bring clinical research and education to the Medical District with a new facility. The university is also pursuing Lot D for a new water-research facility.

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Keynote speaker Dave McMillan addresses attendees of Downtown Duluth's annual meeting at the DECC on Tuesday.
Contributed / Asher James Creative

DULUTH โ€” Members of the business advocacy organization Downtown Duluth took to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Harbor Side Ballroom on Tuesday for the group's 38th Annual Meeting and Celebration.

Dave McMillan, interim chancellor at University of Minnesota Duluth, was keynote speaker of the event with over 500 attendees.

"Everybody knows we educate folks. For me, coming out of the private sector, that equates very closely with workforce development. It is basically what we do most of the time," McMillan said.

He noted that 97% of graduates are either employed or on their way to graduate school when they finish their terms at UMD, and more than 50% of students graduate with practical experience in a cooperative or internship settings.

In addition to education, research is also central to what the University of Minnesota offers โ€” $24 million of externally funded research that is usually regionally focused, McMillan said.


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Place settings await attendees at Downtown Duluth's annual meeting.
Contributed / Downtown Duluth

Outreach is also part of the university's mission, which includes Glensheen, Minnesota Sea Grant and the Water Resources Center, Tweed Museum of Art and Bulldog athletics.

Aside from campus activities, UMD has a presence downtown. For example, the university acts as the biggest stakeholder of Amsoil Arena, "Home of the Bulldogs."

Commencement is another example that fills the arena twice with friends and family members of college graduates, he said. UMD students also find employment downtown, and participate in service learning opportunities with organizations like First Ladies of the Hillside, Steve O'Neil Apartments, the Center for Regional and Child Welfare Studies, and the University of Minnesota Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team.

"All of those things exist downtown today," McMillan said.

As it waits for design funding from the state, the U of M is already looking at its Hillside neighborhood options.

According to McMillan, Duluth currently has a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for the university to bring clinical research and education in the heart of the Medical District with the Duluth Academic Health Project to further its presence downtown.

The College of Medicine graduated 2,000 physicians, of which two-third stay in the state and 50% practice in cities of 20,000 or fewer. Essentia's Vision Northland will be opening soon and St. Luke's starts phase two of its health forward campus redevelopment initiative next month.

"The state of Minnesota, the city of Duluth are all deeply invested into the Medical District. Now is a perfect time for the state and university to invest in a new campus facility," Mayor Emily Larson said in a video played during McMillan's speech.

The Duluth Academic Health Project expansion provides an opportunity to grow the university's footprint in clinical training and research.


Downtown Duluth Annual Meeting in the DECC Harborside Room
Attendees listen at Downtown Duluth's annual meeting Tuesday.
Brielle Bredsten / Duluth News Tribune

"The university is all in for this. Where do we stand today? We've been in two past bonding bills. We've got a $12 million request out to the state that we can pair with $6 million of university funding and that gives us the wherewithal to design and get that thing moving," McMillan said. "We need this thing to get in the bonding bill this year to make a consequential investment that I think will pay dividends for a long, long time."

The university is also investing in water research with a new facility on Lot D, the 12-acre property located just west of the Pier B Resort Hotel. It is owned by the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

UMD water research is currently centered at the Large Lakes Observatory, Minnesota Sea Grant and the Natural Resources Research Institute.

"This is where LLO, the only research institution of its kind focused on and devoted to the science of large lakes, exists. There's three buildings remaining on the old main campus," McMillan said. "Two of them turned into housing, which is an important use. And we're in one that will celebrate its 99th year of existence and was not built to be a research lab."

"We have an old place, and we don't have a place to store our wonderful ship, and our Sea Grant facility is landlocked on campus," McMillan added.

According to McMillan, Lot D is the last remaining opportunity to develop land along the shore and harbor front that doesn't compete with industrial waterfront.

Less than 1% of the planet's water is fresh, liquid and accessible, McMillan said. Ten percent of that water is in the Great Lakes.

"Given our location, we think we have a very special and very important responsibility to take water seriously and to take our research duty seriously," McMillan said


It will require a large investment by community stakeholders because parts of Lot D are falling into the bay and there is an old facility that will need to be removed. So far, the feasibility, wave and geomagnetic studies have been completed and the university is exploring funding opportunities.

"This will take an all hands on deck, no pun intended, opportunity with philanthropy, public funding and university funding," McMillan said. "This is big. This is a game changer, along with the medical and pharmacy opportunity where we find ways to build UMD and University of Minnesota into downtown and into the waterfront."

The project would help "make Duluth front and center of fresh-water research, not only in the state but across the nation," McMillan said.

Ambassador of the Year

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Cecile Simonson was recognized during the Downtown Annual Meeting on April 18 at the DECC.
Contributed / Asher James Creative

"Our team really plays a vital role in our downtown, from the streets to the skywalks and making it a better place. Many of you have really come to rely on a friendly face in the skywalk, and that is of our senior hospitality and safety ambassador, Cecile Simonson," said Downtown Duluth President Kristi Stokes.

Last July, Simonson was assaulted in the skywalk system while on patrol. She is celebrating her retirement after 14 years with the team.

The 65-year-old was reportedly attacked by a man who was on pretrial release after another random downtown assault in April.

Safety update

"We hear you when you say safety is a concern, and we are an advocate for you," Stokes said. Improvements were listed, including increased security at Tech Village Ramp and more patrols at the parking ramps in the Historic Arts and Theater District and Medical District.

There is more communication between the Duluth Police Department, public defenders, prosecutors and Downtown Duluth about repeat offenders and holding them accountable, Stokes said.


Emily Larson's "State of the City" speech focused on vision and persistence.

The organization is also partnering with social service providers on additional assistance to those who are unsheltered and in need of treatment.

Through a partnership with the 1200 Fund, Downtown Duluth provided Downtown Window Improvement grants to 10 businesses to improve storefront windows and lighting.

The businesses receiving the $2,500 grants were Canal Park's Vita Pizza, Zeitgeist, LUM Studios / CF Design, Hucklebeary, Duluth's Best Bread, Lester River Trading Co., Hemlocks Leatherworks, 144 Music Fashion & More, and the Nordic Center.

Another round of grants will be offered later this year. The initiative, along with other recommendations from the mayor's Downtown Task Force, assists with improving the overall environment and safety downtown, Stokes said.

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Downtown Duluth Chair Matt Gottwald of North Shore Bank, Dave McMillan of UMD, President Kristi Stokes and Duluth Mayor Emily Larson gave speeches Tuesday.
Contributed / Asher James Creative

"We are working very closely with partners like MnDOT and CHUM when we see encampments like the one on railroad street that was on MnDOT property. We worked with them to make sure that they are doing everything that they can to move people safely to housing. We are working to make sure that encampments are actually a vehicle to get people into housing," Larson said.

The mayor's Downtown Task Force will soon give an update on the progress of its 27 recommendations, with 22 already underway, Larson said.

Earlier that day, Larson visited Minnesota Teen Challenge , a residential and outpatient chemical health facility that owns and operates two buildings downtown.

"I'm here with deep hope in my heart knowing and understanding that the stories that I heard this morning at Minnesota Teen Challenge are the same kind of stories in the buildings that we're rehabilitating. They're the same kind of stories about the store fronts that you are investing in," Larson said.


Housing update

"We've seen nearly a 13% increase in square footage in our downtown devoted to housing units over the last three years," Stokes said.

Property transformations such as the Board of Trade Lofts , the Leijona Apartments in the historic St. Louis County Jail building, the Cove Apartments, Zenith DCHS apartments at historic Central High School were applauded.

More housing projects are online in the coming year, Larson said.

"We are working on a housing plan that is active right now to project where we can invest in housing downtown to increase the number of people moving around," Larson said.

This story was updated at 8:48 a.m. April 20 to correct the name of the College of Medicine, which graduated 2,000 physicians. It was originally posted at 6:07 a.m. April 20. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

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