DULUTH — The Duluth Art Institute, which spent months in a back-and-forth with its former landlords at the St. Louis County Depot, is moving its gallery to a former Social Security office in a former bank building — less than a half-mile from where it spent decades.

The 3,100-square foot space on the fourth floor of the high-rise office building has two walls of windows overlooking the city's Central Hillside neighborhood. The vibe is corporate, for now, but executive director Christina Woods had tile samples on hand, plans to paint, and was visualizing the movable gallery walls that will soon be installed.

Classes and studios will remain at the old Carnegie Library the Art Institute owns in Lincoln Park.

After a hunt for a new gallery and the setbacks of COVID-19 — the staff is still playing catch-up with exhibitions that were scheduled but not held — Woods is ready to settle into a period with fewer pivots.

"I'm looking forward to some quiet time to get stuff in place," she said earlier this week, while showing off the new space.

The Art Institute's lease at the St. Louis County Depot ends May 1. It plans to open the new gallery by mid-summer — in time for its popular showcase of members' art. In the meantime, its keepers have plans to expand and renovate the building in Lincoln Park, or potentially acquire another property that could serve as its permanent home. It's pursuing a bonding request for $5 million from the Legislature.

The new gallery is in the heart of the downtown. Though it's referred to as the U.S. Bank building, the office building was sold by the bank to 130 West Superior Street LLC in 2021. Its new owners had hoped to deviate from traditional tenants.

"My business partner Chris Priley and I always knew the building's potential included more than just providing office space," Tom Stender said in a news release. "We're honored to partner with such an impactful public institution."

Robin Washington, president of the Art Institute's board of directors, said he has liked the positivity he has been getting from the new landlords. When he suggested that an art installation be placed on one of the building's second-floor rooftops, visible from the gallery window that sits two floors higher, it wasn't nixed.

The Art Institute has been on the hunt for a new space for more than a year.

The St. Louis County Depot opened as a rail station in 1892 and ended passenger service in 1969. It was spared demolition and instead was named a National Historic Site. It reopened in 1973 as the home of several arts and heritage organizations.

In 2022, the St. Louis County Attorney's Office doubled back to a long-ignored Minnesota statute requiring a competitive bidding process on government properties. It asked tenants at the historic building, including the Duluth Art Institute, to submit proposals — and it opened the bidding to outsider nonprofit and for-profit companies who might be able to use the on-site stages or a loading dock.

The county was offering just one-year leases, a truncated time period because of capital improvement plans that would require room for workers and vacated work spaces, and the shuffling of tenants.

The initial request for proposals made some tenants, including the Art Institute, nervous. In the end, they were the only organization that had its proposal denied. Another longtime tenant, the Duluth Playhouse, had moved out months earlier.

Mary Tennis, executive director of the St. Louis County Depot, said Wednesday that no one is yet marked to move into the former Art Institute space. They are keeping it open to allow for flexibility as the building goes through its upgrades — which still need funding, but could start as soon as late winter 2025.