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Pam Kramer: Charrette is alive and well

Virgil Swing's column in the April 17 issue of the Budgeteer, "Give the Streets Their Due (But Don't Insult the Skywalk System)," appealed to city councilors to check into whether the ideas developed at the 2005 charrette are "just gathering dust...

Virgil Swing's column in the April 17 issue of the Budgeteer, "Give the Streets Their Due (But Don't Insult the Skywalk System)," appealed to city councilors to check into whether the ideas developed at the 2005 charrette are "just gathering dust."

Our organization, the Duluth Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) was the co-sponsor of the 2005 Knight Community Building Program's East Downtown, Hillside, Waterfront Charrette. I was appointed by former mayor Herb Bergson to chair the Charrette Stewardship Group, a diverse coalition of public/private sector representatives, and to coordinate and encourage implementation of the charrette vision and principles.

I am pleased to say that, Yes, we continue to meet, and many of the charrette's imaginative ideas on improving Duluth's downtown, waterfront and Hillside neighborhoods have become reality.

Some examples include:

  • A city commitment and increased funding, including a Knight Foundation grant, to pursue form-based codes as part of a new zoning code.
  • New infill, connectivity and preservation investment including: the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Condominiums, historic preservation of the Greysolon Plaza, reuse of the Gardner Apartments for the arts and the A&L Renaissance Building.
  • Progress on conversion of one-way streets and avenues to two-way to slow traffic, encourage walkability and an improved environment for pedestrians. Charrette recommendations are part of the Endion Land Use and Transportation Plan by the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council.
  • Landscaping at Lake Place Park, street tree inventory and planting by the Greater Downtown Council.
  • Creation of the Downtown Historic District, completion of the Bridgeman-Russell apartments with historic tax credits and training sessions on the use of tax credits were conducted.
  • Creation of a Historic Preservation Loan Fund by Neighborhood Housing Services of Duluth that improves the condition of homes and small rental properties.
  • Greater Downtown Council public safety and programming initiatives such as: the Clean and Safe Team and increased monitoring and safety of Skywalk through extended hours, summer concerts and celebrations.
  • Implementation of storefront renovation, new infill commercial development and blight removal that adds to the economy and walkability in the old downtown and hillside.
  • Funds from St. Mary's-Duluth Clinic to Duluth LISC to continue the Hillside Homeownership Incentive Program, which assists medical district employees to become homeowners. More than 120 downtown/Hillside employees have purchased homes.
  • Collaboration with the Knight Creative Communities Pathways on a plan for artistically designed bike racks; also Bob Dylan Pathway signage completed through a community-based effort.

While local opinions may differ from the Charrette Report on the issue of skywalks, it is clear that our goal needs to promote connectivity, at all levels, by encouraging public and private investment reflecting Duluth's unique character (including climate).
A key principle of the charrette was that we boost Duluth by nurturing a collaborative culture that maintains a positive dialogue focused on enhancing the city's quality of life. Creative thinking and collaboration on issues like the Skywalk expansion can ensure that we develop a safe, vibrant, well-connected and pedestrian-friendly Duluth.

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The Charrette has also spawned more extensive revitalization plans for parts of the Central and East Hillside neighborhoods through completion of mini-charrette processes for the Armory/ Plaza Mixed-Use District and the Fourth Street Arts, Culture and Sustainability Corridor. These plans are part of Duluth LISC's Creating Neighborhoods that Work/At Home in Duluth collaborative, which was selected as one of 10 demonstration sites for National LISC's Sustainable Community Initiative.

A key investment partner in the "At Home" process is the Knight Foundation, which recently announced a $500,000, three-year grant to Duluth LISC for the continued charrette implementation and comprehensive, sustainable community development in the Central and East Hillsides, Lincoln Park, West Duluth and Morgan Park neighborhoods. Through collaboration with the Charrette Stewardship Group, neighborhood residents and the entire community, our goal is to implement the charrette vision/principles and the "At Home" plans.

To do this we need:

  • Residents interested in restoring their homes.
  • Businesses looking to upgrade or expand.
  • Developers seeking new business opportunities in the five neighborhoods.
  • Creative and committed partners to assist with the charrette or "At Home" plan implementations.

No, the charrette is not gathering dust; in fact, it is gaining momentum and seeking your involvement.
Pam Kramer is the executive director of Duluth LISC. For more information, contact Pam at (218) 727-7761 or by e-mail at pkramer@lisc.org .

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