A parking lot in Canal Park will be transformed on Tuesday, and the community is invited to the party.
"There's going to be lawn games and bonfires and a bouncy house and food and idea stations all throughout it," said Duluth City Councilor Elissa Hansen. "It's going to pop up for those three hours, and then go away. It's kind of fast and furious."
Described as a community launch party, the event will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. at what ordinarily is a city parking lot between the Inn on Lake Superior and Comfort Suites. It's one of nine events that will take place around the city from Monday through Thursday to collect Duluthians' input about the future of the popular district.
"We want every aspect of why people enjoy Canal Park or why they aren't spending more time there," said Kate Van Daele, a Duluth city planner who has taken a role in marketing the larger Imagine Duluth initiative, which is an effort to update the city's comprehensive plan.
Imagine Canal Park won its own niche when the city earned a $200,000 Knight Foundation grant, announced in June, for the specific purpose of reimagining Canal Park. The team that successfully sought the grant, which consisted of Hansen and city officials David Montgomery and Keith Hamre, said they wanted to make the busy neighborhood as popular with residents as it is with tourists.
Initially, it was suggested some experimental "pop-ups" would be tried out as early as this past summer - such as temporarily closing Buchanan Street between Canal Park Drive and Lake Avenue to function as a pedestrian mall, and in turn converting Morse Street from one-way to two-way traffic.
But planners have chosen to obtain more community input before doing too much experimenting, Van Daele said.
"I think there might have been an issue of talking about the big picture at the first blush ... as opposed to really drilling in on how we were going to not only use the funds but where our starting point was going to be," she said.
Brian Daugherty said he likes the idea of a Buchanan Street pedestrian mall - in the winter. Something like a Christmas village could be "a nice addition," the president of Grandma's Restaurant Co. said. In the summer, though, he's concerned that closing the street would exacerbate traffic problems that occur when the Aerial Lift Bridge is up.
Daugherty is enthused about the Imagine Canal Park process, he said - Grandma's is participating in Tuesday's launch party. But he has been gathering input about the district for 30 years in the form of local patrons telling him their concerns.
"The No. 1 thing I've heard from locals for decades about Canal Park is that I can never find a place to park in the summer," Daugherty said. "I have a pretty staunch position that that is first and foremost what we need."
Grandma's provides free parking to its customers, he added.
Knight Foundation money already has been used in one experiment aimed at partially alleviating the parking crunch, Hansen said. It allowed the Duluth Transit Authority to offer its Port Town Trolley service for free during the final two weeks of August. Planners have said that if people parked at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and used the faux trolleys to get to Canal Park, the area could be more pedestrian-friendly and less auto-dependent.
The city is working with the DTA on perhaps providing the free trolley service at strategic times during the offseason, Hansen said, such as while Bentleyville is open. Free trolley service will be offered for Tuesday's launch party.
The feedback obtained so far suggests support for a Buchanan Street mall pop-up, Hansen said. "One of the main things that keeps rising to the top is trying some type of pedestrianized section in Canal Park," she said. "And so far engineering and everyone feels like that's the easiest place to try it."
The satellite events will take place this week in hopes of gathering input from as many neighborhoods as possible, Hansen said.
Everything is on the table, Van Daele said.
"We're looking at the 5-year-old's opinion in terms of having bouncy houses all the time to the millennials that really want to be able to walk and access Canal Park and other places in our community, and also taking into consideration those that are disabled and have a harder time getting to these areas and making it more accessible for them," she said.
If you go
In addition to Tuesday's community Canal Park launch, eight "pop-ups" and "stakeholder workshops" will take place this week.
• 4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, Miller Hill Mall (Barnes & Noble court)
• 9-10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Central Hillside Community Center
• 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Lakeside, grass triangle area near the Lakewalk at 44th Avenue East
• 9-10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Harrison Community Center
• 2-3:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Center, West Duluth
• 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Zeitgeist Arts Cafe (atrium)
• 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Duluth Children's Museum
• 9-10:30 a.m. Thursday, Canal Park Lodge
Learn more at imagineduluth.com. Click on "Imagine Canal Park"