Developer: NorShor Theatre's tower marquee will rise again
The six-story tower that once fronted Duluth's NorShor Theatre is coming back.
It will be rebuilt as part of the restoration of the 1910s-era theater planned by George Sherman and his company, Sherman Associates.
Sherman confirmed the plan to rebuild the marquee on Tuesday, after he addressed a sold-out Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Kitchi Gammi Club in Duluth.
In its day, the 64-foot-tall lighted tower with the theater's name was like a beacon visible dozens of miles away.
Local preservationist Tony Dierckins, co-author of "Lost Duluth," was excited to hear that the tower marquee would be rebuilt.
"That's great! That's fantastic!" Dierckins said. "That was one thing we never thought to wish for. That will make it worthwhile. To me, that would really bring it all back together. Otherwise, the exterior would look cleaner but not so much different than it does now."
Sherman said the $19 million renovation of the once-grand theater will begin in August and will take about 14 months. He said they'll do their best to duplicate the art deco-style tower that was removed decades ago. The theater will be managed and operated by the Duluth Playhouse community theater organization.
During his presentation to the chamber, the Minneapolis-based developer talked about his business background and his other projects in Duluth.
He already had successfully orchestrated numerous major developments in the Twin Cities when he expanded with projects in four other states, focusing more and more on urban development.
"I do this a lot to encourage what could be done," he said.
That's one of the reasons Duluth Mayor Don Ness respects and admires Sherman.
"He's a savvy businessman and he understands the importance of improving the community in which he invests," Ness said. "He's committed to playing a key role in Duluth's revitalization, both because it's good business and he genuinely wants Duluth to thrive. That's the sort of developer any city would want. We're fortunate that he has seen Duluth as a good investment."
In the 1990s, a brick building in Canal Park became Sherman's first acquisition in Duluth. About a dozen acquisitions and projects have followed, including several schools converted to apartments, the Mount Royal Apartments, the Chateau luxury apartments, Greysolon Plaza, the Temple Opera Block building and the construction of the $40 million Sheraton Hotel at 301 E. Superior St.
He said other hotel owners thought he was crazy to build a Class A hotel in Duluth's Old Downtown, topped with luxury condos.
"We did condos on top because we never like to do anything easy," he said with humor.
In the rare public speaking appearance, Sherman talked about why he decided to invest in Duluth. He noted the city's positive leadership, its colleges, the area's lifestyle and its entrepreneurial spirit.
But he also has a family connection to Duluth.
His grandparents moved from Southern Minnesota to Duluth in 1915 and lived in the city for decades. His mother was born in Duluth in 1918 and attended Central High School. He still has second cousins in Duluth. And as a junior and senior in high school, he was a competitive skier who would often come to Duluth to ski, including ski jumping at Chester Bowl.
During those visits, his group would stay at the Hotel Duluth, which later became the Greysolon Plaza. It was a coincidence, though, that his company eventually bought the Greysolon Plaza.
The Sheraton Hotel needed ballrooms, which the nearby Greysolon Plaza had. And the hotel needed the land behind the Sheraton Hotel -- which was Greysolon property -- for a parking ramp.
"I had to buy (Greysolon) to get it," Sherman said.
The Greysolon has since undergone $8 million in renovations, including restoration of its grand ballroom and other event rooms that boast intricate vintage detailing.
When it comes to Duluth, Sherman said, "We're not through yet."
Sherman Associates will continue to invest $20 million to $40 million a year in Duluth, he said.
Besides the upcoming renovation of the NorShor Theatre, Sherman Associates is spending $8 million on the old Lincoln Park School to create a mix of affordable housing and space for nonprofits. It recently acquired the old Irving School, which is now housing. And a 50,000-square-foot addition to Sherman Associates' commercial warehouse complex on Garfield Avenue breaks ground by fall.
"When we make a commitment to a city, we stick to it," Sherman said.