Duluth draws praise from visiting community development experts

A panel of community development experts from around the nation shared some of their initial impressions of Duluth on Tuesday afternoon, as they wrapped up a three-day visit to the city.

A panel of community development experts from around the nation shared some of their initial impressions of Duluth on Tuesday afternoon, as they wrapped up a three-day visit to the city.

For a few of the experts, it was a return visit, as they had participated in a weeklong assessment of Duluth's downtown waterfront and Hillside neighborhoods in 2005, as part of an endeavor called a charrette.

"We brought back this panel of experts to take a look at what we've accomplished and to give us a road map for the future," said Pam Kramer, director of Duluth's Local Initiatives Support Corp., a local nonprofit heavily involved in

organizing the charrette and follow-up visit.

The past few days have been busy for the experts, who took part in 12 separate community meetings, with some attracting more than 100 stakeholders.


Ken Stapleton, a consultant from Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., said his team was impressed by what they found.

"We have truly been energized by the progress you have made," he said. "Duluth is clearly poised to become a success story."

The group won't complete its formal report for another four to six weeks, but Stapleton offered several observations Tuesday.

He praised the city for its efforts to foster a creative, artsy feel. In particular, Stapleton sees promise in Duluth's recent efforts to engage with the local higher-education community.

"UMD is really at the table with you," he said. "With the creative energy that's spreading, we recommend your moving forward to create a multi-modal

creative corridor."

Stapleton also voiced support for Duluth's commitment to designing streets that better serve pedestrians and bicyclists, in addition to motorists. He advised the city to move ahead with an effort to demonstrate the concept through its redesign of Sixth Avenue East.

Richard Hall, a consultant from Tallahassee, Fla., said Duluth has much going for it in terms of being an attractive place for walkers.


"The No. 1 parameter for walkability is having small block size," he said, noting that Duluth's 400-by-380-foot downtown blocks fit the bill well.

"Duluth has great bone structure," said Mary Newsom, a consultant from Charlotte, N.C.

"It's such a wonderful, historical place," she said describing the sense of

authenticity the downtown waterfront has.

But Newsom observed that the city struggles with poor connections between its downtown and the waterfront, due to the dividing freeway. She said Duluth should look at how to make it easier and more inviting for walkers to travel between the downtown and waterfront.

Stapleton takes encouragement from Duluth's growing popularity as a tourist destination, as well.

"You really do have it all," he said, observing: "Your brand is incredibly strong."

But Stapleton said the city can do more to market itself on a national level. He urged Duluth to begin work on a new marketing plan, so it will be positioned to make the most of the much-awaited economic recovery.


Mayor Don Ness thanked the panelists for their work but also heaped praise on local businesspeople and developers who have reshaped Duluth's Old

Downtown through their private investments in recent years.

"They're taking a chance on our downtown, and they've been willing to put their own money down to make things happen," he said "This really is a community success story."

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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