Cloquet City Council discusses how to revitalize the West End

What will it take to breathe new life into Cloquet's Historic West End Business District? That was the main question posed during a City Council work session earlier this month.

What will it take to breathe new life into Cloquet's Historic West End Business District? That was the main question posed during a City Council work session earlier this month.

Cloquet Community Development Director Holly Butcher presented findings, strategies and challenges concerning the West End district - as well as the Cloquet Avenue Business District - to council members.

Among the goals of the Cloquet Economic Development Authority (EDA) - which Butcher facilitates - are understanding the strengths and weaknesses in downtown, identifying properties and areas in need of revitalization and ultimately devising a strategy for downtown revitalization.

EDA members and Butcher met with local business owners from both ends of downtown over the past year, and they agreed the area that needs help first in Cloquet is the West End.

When the streets in Cloquet were originally laid out, the road over the St. Louis River bridge ended at a T, so drivers could only go left or right to the West End or the Cloquet Avenue business districts. There was not a Highway 33 that connected to Interstate 35 at that time, Butcher explained.


After the 1918 fires, residents rebuilt the buildings in the West End first, including the former city hall (now owned by Potlatch).

The almost century-old buildings are architecturally interesting, and several of the buildings in the West End district are on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Butcher.

About 20 years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation raised the Highway 33 bridge over the St. Louis River, physically separating the West End Business District from Highway 33, which formerly had more at-grade traffic access to the district.

As a result, the West End was no longer as visible or accessible, and many businesses closed or moved out.

Now there are several empty and some blighted buildings in the West End. A few of the empty buildings have not been contributing to the tax rolls for about 10 years, Butcher said.

Butcher asked councilors what they'd like to see done to help the district.

"Are the businesses willing to help, because we can't do it by ourselves," asked Ward 2 Councilor David Bjerkness. "We can have a vision and know what we want, but ... it's going to cost everybody money. ...

"What will it (the West End) be when it grows up?" he asked.


Several options were shared, such as improving the streetscape, having the city buy a few of the empty buildings and update and sell them to entrepreneurs, or possibly building an archway in the West End.

James Barclay, assistant city administrator/human resources director, noted that people need a reason to visit the West End. Barclay said that in the small town he recently moved from, there were brew pubs and several restaurants in a revitalized part of town as well as outdoor music offered during the summer, which made that part of town popular.

One suggestion was to have encourage more business offices in the West End, and bring more restaurants and brew pubs to Cloquet Avenue where there already is higher traffic volume and visibility - though the new Avenue C restaurant is finally nearing completion in the West End, where it will anchor the First National Plaza building.

There also was a discussion about adding townhouses to the West End.

The main concern business owners saw with Cloquet Avenue is that the wide streets help contribute to faster traffic, which can in turn cause problems for pedestrians trying to safely cross the road.

Changes that business owners would like to see happen on Cloquet Avenue include the addition of stop signs at 12th and Ninth streets, which they suggested would help slow down traffic for both pedestrian safety and to give people a chance to notice the neighborhood businesses.

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