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Kristi Stokes: Breathing new life into old buildings makes strong statement

Thanks to the vision of two local businessmen, a high profile corner of Downtown Duluth is slated for yet another face-lift. There is no question that the construction of the Technology Village at the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street has...

Thanks to the vision of two local businessmen, a high profile corner of Downtown Duluth is slated for yet another face-lift.
There is no question that the construction of the Technology Village at the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street has prompted a number of downtown building owners to reinvest in their structures. The latest to take on such a restoration project are the new owners of three buildings at 1, 3 and 7 West Superior Street.
The location of these historic brick and stone buildings on the upper side of Superior Street is seen by most as a gateway to Downtown Duluth. But the buildings have seen better days. While retailers occupy the street level storefronts, the upper levels are vacant, with age and neglect visible on both the interior and exterior. The Vonjaro partnership hopes to breathe new life back into these structures.
The partnership, made up of James Jarocki and Bruce Von Riedel, is prepared to tackle the historic restoration of the storefronts and turn the upper levels into space that is again usable. When they started the project, the partners thought they'd cover all their bases, advertising available space for retail, office and residential. What they may not have expected was the overwhelming response from callers who were interested in the residential opportunities.
That leads one to once again look at a trend that is hitting downtowns across the nation. That trend is toward developing housing above commercial property. It is swiftly spreading in cities such as Denver, Seattle, Cleveland and Milwaukee, to name a few. These communities have experienced a rapid increase in the demand for loft apartments, and as one Milwaukee developer stated last year, the apartments were filling up as fast as the space was made available.
While the partners are researching the residential use possibilities at two of the buildings, they are not prepared to say whether the project will indeed consist of housing as they continue to weigh numerous factors. The third building is considered ideal for office space, and it's expected that the facade improvements to all three structures will really drive the rest of the project. The ambitious plan will require substantial funding to turn the necessary improvements into reality, and Vonjaro is seeking assistance from the Duluth Economic Development Authority's Storefront Loan Program to attain that goal.
Such a vision makes a strong statement about the downtown community. Similar to other building owners, the partners are eager to reinvest in Downtown Duluth to provide a better business
climate for all.
Kristi Stokes is the President of the Greater Downtown Council

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