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Developer wants to build own skywalk in downtown Duluth

Duluth's skywalk system is undergoing a growth spurt. A&L Properties wants to build a skywalk linking two of its buildings: the Technology Village and the recently completed Wieland Block development. The proposed walkway would pass over Supe...

Skywalk
This alcove on the second floor of the Technology Village building was designed to accommodate a skywalk to the Wieland Block across Superior Street. Likewise, you can see the sign-covered area where the Wieland was built to receive the skywalk. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Duluth's skywalk system is undergoing a growth spurt.

A&L Properties wants to build a skywalk linking two of its buildings: the Technology Village and the recently completed Wieland Block development. The proposed walkway would pass over Superior Street just east of Lake Avenue.

"This is just one more seed we're planting to contribute to the vibrancy of a healthy downtown," said Rob Link, president and general manager of A&L.

The skywalk needs city approval. Kristi Stokes, executive director of the Greater Downtown Council, contends the skywalk will benefit not only tenants of the Wieland Block Building but also businesses throughout downtown.

"The skywalk system is a true asset to our city," she said.

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"It makes the business district that much more user friendly," Stokes said.

Link's firm plans to pick up the tab for the project, spending about $500,000. The price tag is relatively modest because the Technology Village and the Wieland Block building were designed to accommodate a skywalk.

Duluth City Architect Terry Groshong said he knows of no other local skywalk to be built entirely with private money, as A&L proposes.

The Technology Village isn't connected to the rest of the skywalk system yet, but will be soon. A walkway is being built across Lake Avenue between Lake Superior Place and the Technology Village. That project should be completed by October at an estimated cost of about $2.35 million.

In August, work will start on another section of skywalk, connecting the Sheraton Duluth with Greysolon Plaza across Third Street East. The Duluth Economic Development Authority has authorized $1.65 million for that project.

The Wieland Block skywalk won't cause as much traffic disruption as the current skywalk construction over Lake Avenue. Link said there will be no need to tear up or close the street for an extended period, as the skywalk probably will be installed in pieces by night.

The skywalk will be only 10 feet wide, which Groshong said is the narrowest the city considers appropriate for a skywalk. Most of the city's skywalk system is 12 feet wide, but recent segments have been reduced to 10 feet widths to hold down costs.

The new Superior Street skywalk will be about 100 feet long and will feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls to minimize the visual impact.

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"It's not going to be as imposing or noticeable as other downtown skywalks," Link said.

A&L has filed a request for a concurrent use permit from the city of Duluth.

The Duluth Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to take up that request Aug. 11. The planning commission's recommendation will be forwarded to the Duluth City Council, which will act to approve or deny the permit.

If A&L receives the go-ahead within 90 days, Link said the skywalk could be completed before the end of this year. If the process moves more slowly, he still hopes to see the walkway installed by March of next year.

The walkway would be owned by A&L, but Link said his firm plans to operate it in a fashion consistent with the rest of the skywalk system.

Leases have been signed for only about 10 percent of the 100,000-square-foot Wieland Block development.

"It's been a soft market," Link said. But he noted that A&L has received a number of recent inquiries, and he's confident the development will fill as the economy regains its footing.

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Artist's skywalk
This conceptual drawing depicts what a proposed skywalk connecting the Technology Village and Wieland Block buildings might look like, facing east from the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue. (Source: DSGW Architects and A&L Properties)

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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