As the old saying goes, sometimes the toughest challenges bring the greatest rewards. We may be repeating this often in 2020 in downtown Duluth.

This is the final year of our Superior Street reconstruction project with a focus on Lake Avenue to Third Avenue West. This will be the third year that the Greater Downtown Council works in partnership with the city of Duluth and Northland Constructors to keep our businesses humming throughout the project. Plus, there will be work to wrap up between Third and Fourth Avenues East.

We have learned many things from the last two years. Communication with businesses and the community is key. And we continue to remind community members how important it is to support our local businesses during such projects, as they remain open and accessible — it’s just that the route might not be as direct as usual. We also know this next phase will have its benefits and its challenges.

On the positive side, our skywalk system is yet another way to gain access to the many businesses within the construction zone. We were very fortunate to have that additional route for pedestrians in the first phases of construction, and I know it will be utilized heavily during this phase. Our organization will again work to bring additional signage and wayfinding to the skywalks and to the street to help pedestrians find their way to their destinations.

On the challenging side, construction crews will be taking on our busiest intersection in downtown Duluth — Lake Avenue and Superior Street — right at the start of the project in mid-April. MnDOT will also take advantage of this closure time into July to work on the Lake Avenue bridge.

This means the Greater Downtown Council will be working with many partners to ensure residents and visitors are aware of the best ways to access downtown. Fifth Avenue West will become a heavily utilized conduit during the closure of Lake Avenue.

At the same time, Essentia Health will be gaining momentum on its $800 million project. Much demolition and rock removal has been taking place over the last few months. This year, large cranes will be arriving to signal the start of new construction. This is unprecedented investment in our downtown area. Additionally, St. Luke’s also continues work on its $300 million project to upgrade its campus. We look forward to the spin-off economic development that will occur from these projects.

At least one such project, the 204-unit residential high-rise at 333 E. Superior St., is already slated to get underway in 2020 after a slight delay. This will be a great addition to our downtown, bringing more residents to the core of our community.

To have all of these projects occurring within the same timeframe in our downtown may pose traffic challenges. More importantly, though, it’s a sign of progress. It’s a sign that the heart of Duluth is worthy of tremendous investments.

At the Greater Downtown Council, we are working with all of these projects to incorporate updates into our communications plans so that the community and those who call upon it are well informed. Obviously, in Minnesota, we are quite accustomed to the summer season also signaling construction season. There may be a detour inconvenience; but in the end, we know the rewards will be well worth it. We will have a transformed Superior Street with utility upgrades, better pedestrian access, and a new streetscape. We also hope this will bring about better connectivity between the core downtown and Canal Park.

The investments in the hospital district will also bring better access to health care, new opportunities for redevelopment, stronger ties to Superior Street, and a renewed energy in our commercial corridor.

So, while we may face a few inconveniences in the short-term during 2020, the rewards will last for many years to come.

Kristi Stokes is president of the Greater Downtown Council in Duluth. She can be reached at (218) 727-8549 or She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the request of the Opinion page.


The News Tribune Opinion page again this year asked community leaders and area experts to gaze into their crystal balls and to share what 2020 might be bringing us.

Thursday, Dec. 26: City of Duluth

Friday, Dec. 27: St. Louis County

Saturday, Dec. 28: Duluth school district

Sunday, Dec. 29: Congress

Monday, Dec. 30: Minnesota Legislature

Tuesday, Dec. 31: The Economy

Wednesday, Jan. 1: Tourism

Thursday, Jan. 2: Business

FRIDAY, JAN. 3: Downtown Duluth