Downtown Duluth’s main thoroughfare will finally be going under the jackhammer for its long-awaited face-lift.

Starting this week, sections of Superior Street will be closed to vehicles over the course of a three-year, $28 million reconstruction project. But businesses are emphasizing that they will remain open and accessible to pedestrians, with an added bonus of free parking for quick errands.

“I think there’s so many mixed emotions. They are really excited about the project. We’ve been talking about it so long and planning for it,” said Kristi Stokes, president of Duluth’s Greater Downtown Council. “Obviously there’s some apprehension about having a street closed in front of their business.”

Parking ramps in the area will offer free parking to those who want to make a quick stop into a business for less than an hour, Stokes said.

The construction project will be a major undertaking.

Workers will remove all street and sidewalk brick pavers, which were installed in the mid-1980s and are now cracked, heaved and slippery. They will be replaced with colored and stamped concrete.

Curbs will be slightly reconfigured, but the street will continue to have a mix of angled parking as well as parallel parking. The new design includes more trees and “bump out” sidewalk spaces that can serve as gathering spots or outdoor cafe seating. Lamp posts will have soft-glowing LED bulbs and hoods to reduce light pollution as part of a growing “dark sky” movement.

But the heftiest work will be done under the street’s surface, where old utilities including storm sewers and water mains will be replaced. A new energy-efficient heating system also will be installed.

“There’s a lot of new stuff going in underground that nobody’s going to see after we’re done,” said Duncan Schwensohn, project manager for the city. “Then we won’t have to dig back down to replace anything for hopefully another 100 years.”

The work will be done in phases, with just three- or four-block stretches closed at a time during construction seasons. The first phase will start on the western end of downtown, from 7th to 3rd avenues W.

Mayor Emily Larson and others launched the project Thursday with a Kick Up the Bricks event, where they used golden crowbars to pry out the first few dozen bricks. Officials plan to sell at least 1,000 of the bricks to the public for about $15 apiece.