DULUTH — Bridging the divide between tourist-heavy Canal Park and the rest of downtown has always been a dilemma for Duluth, so when the physical bridge between the two is cut off next summer, businesses will need to get creative to keep their customers flowing.
"How to get Canal Park folks into the core of downtown and vice versa — that will be the challenge," said Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council.
With the three-year reconstruction of Superior Street more than halfway over, the last leg of work could prove the most troublesome when the intersection at Lake Avenue and Superior Street closes from April until the beginning of July. What's more, the Lake Avenue bridge over Interstate 35 will see signal and resurfacing work next year that could further complicate a key connection to the city.
"We're going to be replacing the signal system on the Lake Avenue bridge and possibly changing some of the lane configurations," said Caitlin Johnson with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "There probably will be a time when the bridge is completely shut down," but many details of the project, including timing, have yet to be finalized.
"I don't know what next year will bring for us," said Carrie Brown general manager of the Electric Fetus at the corner of Lake and Superior. "We're going to be in it again next summer." Businesses have had mixed luck weathering the second year of Superior Street closures, Stokes said, and those affected are working together to make their businesses stand out among the labyrinth of closures and detours.
Some have had better luck than others.
"Visitors or tourists are on foot a lot more than the locals are, and they're finding their way into my store well enough either from the Lakewalk or on Superior Street," Brown said. "It's the locals who need a little more encouragement to rethink their regular route and be open-minded and observant on their new path."
The project, with a contract price of $31.5 million, is a complete redesign and replacement of the city's main commercial thoroughfare downtown. This year's work, from Lake Avenue through 4th Avenue East, is expected to wrap up by the end of October.
"We're farther ahead now than we were at this time last year," said the city's project engineer, Duncan Schwensohn.
Just in time to run into more cones and closures.
The long-awaited Twin Ports Interchange project, the tangle of ramps connecting Interstate 35, Interstate 535 and Highway 53, starts next year and will take until 2023 to complete.
Meanwhile, construction of a new Essentia Health hospital tower in downtown Duluth and a nearby high-rise apartment complex are also expected to hinder traffic downtown in the coming years.
"It's going to be interesting times for traveling," Schwensohn said. "It will be good in the end, but you have to get through the construction."