Ambitious plan to renovate Duluth downtown library begins to take shape

City leaders may seek $20 million in state bonding funds for what could be a $40 million project.

The Duluth Public Library.
Clint Austin / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — City officials have kept hush about emerging plans to renovate the downtown public library, despite recent requests from the News Tribune. But the minutes of a Dec. 20 special meeting of the Duluth Public Library Board make it clear a massive project could be in the works.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss the “tight timeline” to complete a strategic plan as the city prepares to seek state bonding funds during the 2024 legislative session. That anticipated request could be for $20 million, according to the meeting minutes.

It goes on to say: “An additional $20 million will be sourced from the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, nonprofit fundraising and redirection of facility operating savings to city debt service.”

A proposal to relocate Duluth’s workforce development center to the current library building could apparently help unlock state support for the project, according to a summary of discussion points at the meeting.

A prospective timeline for the project was laid out by Jim Filby Williams, Duluth’s director of parks, properties and public libraries. It called for the submission of a preliminary draft project pre-design to the state by June, with a final pre-design due in October.


But first, the library must revisit its strategic plan, which was identified as “a critical next step to inform the pre-design process.”

Toward that end, the city has received a proposal to update the strategic plan with help from a St. Paul-based nonprofit, Library Strategies. The minutes state $15,000 in city funding has already been secured for the work.

Two more requests for proposals will also be forthcoming:

  • A pre-design by an architectural firm, at a possible cost of up to $250,000.
  • A community engagement proposal, at a cost of up to $50,000.

The city intends to ask the Duluth Library Foundation to help ease its financial burden by covering half the cost to put those materials together.
Duluth has been talking about the need to update or even replace its downtown library since 2014, when it hired consultants to evaluate the facility and assess the city’s options . But sticker shock appeared to cause those discussions to stall until recently.

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Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at

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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