Greater Downtown Council unveils name change at annual meeting
Addressing public safety through "activation" events and gatherings is a top priority for Downtown Duluth.
DULUTH — A new name was unveiled for the Greater Downtown Council at its 37th annual dinner meeting Tuesday night.
The business advocacy organization dedicated to the promotion and development of the downtown will now officially be called “Downtown Duluth,” President Kristi Stokes announced to nearly 500 business leaders attending the event at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Forty years ago, the Greater Downtown Council was formed after the joining of the Downtown Development Corp. and the Retail Merchants Association . According to Stokes, the name change more clearly identifies the area served by Downtown Duluth, which manages more than 90 blocks throughout the commercial business district from Canal Park to Second Street.
The Down By Downtown program highlighted the successes of Downtown Duluth, such as its involvement in the continued investments into the medical district, which is undergoing transformation with Essentia Health and St. Luke's projects, as well as various housing projects, new ownership to buildings, filling empty storefronts through the Pop-Up CoLab program and the Street Art Initiative. Downtown Duluth also heads events like Sidewalk Days Festival and Movies in the Park, and groups such as the Clean & Safe Team.
"I know our downtown doesn't look like it did prior to the pandemic, and our board of directors has identified public safety as a top priority. So if individuals commit a crime, they need to be held accountable, and our businesses deserve an environment where they can thrive," Stokes said. "We, like many downtowns across the country, are facing new challenges with increased numbers of individuals who are unsheltered or facing mental health issues, and it is not a crime to be homeless."
A continued focus of Downtown Duluth will be to address public safety by encouraging events and gatherings, while acknowledging the mental health issues, loss of a sense of community and homelessness that affect the downtown area, Stokes said.
"We know that safety downtown right now feels precarious for many people," keynote speaker Mayor Emily Larson said. "We know that we are seeing empty storefronts at a rate that is higher than you want. We know that people's shopping habits and retail habits and driving habits have changed. But we are here to reset our downtown with you."
One way to address the public safety issue is by increasing presence downtown with "activation" activities such as walking and neighborhood watch groups, adding a prosecutor to the city's legal team, and investing in social work programming, Larson said.
"This doesn't work without you. Without you showing up; without you bringing everything you can to a meeting and letting us know where we need to adjust; without believing and hoping and shopping and walking; saying 'hello' to people. I'd encourage you to think about how we can reframe ourselves," Larson said.