Ashtabula County Can Learn from Duluth, Minnesota

Ashtabula County can learn from Duluth. Read on.

Reprint from the International Economic Development Council

ED Now Feature: In Duluth, a Distressed Neighborhood Gets a New Lease on Life
By Pakou Ly and Heidi Timm-Bijold, City of Duluth
 Duluth, Minnesota, is a built-out city with a rich industrial history. As such, redevelopment has become a focus as we plan for future population and economic growth. The Clyde Park redevelopment project, a public-private partnership over the past 10 years, is now a success story and source of community pride.Clyde Park is strategically located on 10 acres in the southwest part of Lincoln Park, an impoverished urban neighborhood targeted for revitalization. The Clyde Park property has a long history as an iron foundry and manufacturing site that produced equipment used to construct the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building.Today, the multi-faceted, $26 million Clyde Park complex includes the Clyde Iron restaurant, Duluth Heritage Sports Center, a Boys and Girls club, a children’s museum and more. It exists today thanks to a visionary champion, multiple partners, and strong support from the city.

One champion, many partners

The Clyde Park project’s champion is Alessandro (Alex) Giuliani. Giuliani purchased the 10-acre site, containing 19 dilapidated and vacant buildings, in 2003. His vision was to create a recreational and commercial development that would serve the community and retain its historical significance through reuse of key existing buildings.

Giuliani completed a historical and physical assessment of the site using an EPA brownfields assessment grant through the city of Duluth. He also worked closely with staff from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on building reuse and recycling. (The project ultimately reused three of the 19 existing buildings, and from the rest salvaged 250,000 bricks, wood beams, wood flooring, windows, cranes, and doors.)

The project relied on multiple partners and sources of funding. City staff worked with Giuliani to manage and coordinate Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development cleanup grants, and pulled in additional resources as the project progressed or hit hurdles. The quick response and keen knowledge of city staff was critical in obtaining additional cleanup grants.

The Duluth Public Schools and city of Duluth invested upfront monies in the sports center complex in exchange for future public use of the facility. In addition, Skyline Rotary Club of Duluth spearheaded a major fundraising campaign to build an outdoor plaza. The Clyde Park project also had the good fortune of securing support from several private family donations. The project leveraged $10 of private investment for every $1 of public investment.

Neighbors in the Lincoln Park neighborhood were engaged at the forefront of Clyde Park to become project ambassadors and to garner additional community support.

Community Impact

The Clyde Park project melded vision with brownfield redevelopment and a strong commitment to stimulating community prosperity. It has created more than 62 full-time jobs and now generates property tax revenues of $60,000 annually and sales tax revenues of $180,000.


But the project has brought tremendous value beyond jobs and tax revenues. Clyde Park provides educational opportunities for families, places for social gatherings, a well-used sports complex, and free activities and a safe space for youth to gather all year long through the Boys & Girls Club. Data from the previous three years indicate that:

  • the Heritage Sports Center was utilized by almost half a million people;
  • Clyde Iron restaurant/event center hosted 500 events;
  • the Boys and Girls Club served over 700 youth of all ethnic and socio- economic backgrounds; and
  • the Duluth Children’s Museum had over 100,000 visitors, garnered $2.5 million in donations towards a capital campaign, and increased its membership by 40 percent.

The Clyde Park complex also is encouraging renewed economic growth in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. New businesses in the area include manufacturers Frost River and Kestrel Aircraft, plus ZMC Hotels; Lake Superior Brewing and Bent Paddle Brewing; Stewarts Bikes; Duluth Grill; Kwik Trip and expanded businesses like Rohlfing Distributing. An organic grocery retailer is set to open in 2016.

Duluth schools have opened brand new elementary and middle schools to serve the neighborhood, while an empty school building is being repurposed into affordable housing units and office space for non-profit social service agencies. A crime-infested, run-down, low-income housing building is under new management and renovations, thanks to the Duluth Housing Redevelopment Authority.

There is also a renewed effort to rehabilitate the aged housing stock and increase homeownership through partnerships with local housing development organizations. Residents have received weatherization assistance, financial counseling to move from rental to homeownership, and organizations have rehabilitated over 200 homes. Future housing and retail investments are planned to boost the aging housing stock and bring more jobs to the neighborhood.

Looking to the future

Clyde Park has been a catalyst for other exciting redevelopment projects in Duluth, including a $29.1 million hotel/conference center along the Duluth waterfront on the site of a former cement factory. Light industrial projects are being sought to occupy a 51-acre former Atlas cement site further west in the Morgan Park neighborhood.

Exemplary grant writing, relationship-building with funders at the state and federal level, and getting the right partners at the table with a common vision were critical to the success of the Clyde Park project. Duluth prides itself on the public-private partnerships that have been nurtured over the years and which have brought ideas from preliminary design to shovels in the ground. The private sector and community have to believe in and want to invest in their city’s future; government cannot do it alone. A healthy and vibrant community relies on the dedication and talents of its residents to create future prosperity.

The city of Duluth won an IEDC Excellence in Economic Development award in 2014 for the Clyde Park redevelopment project.

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