Policy & Advocacy Update: Development in Duluth

We are fortunate to have several local developers who continue to invest in Duluth. Throughout the community, we are seeing new buildings going up and existing buildings being repurposed. This includes commercial and retail, as well as much needed housing of all types. Yet we know the demand for more, especially housing, continues to outpace the speed at which we are currently building in Duluth. That is why it is imperative that we continue to aggressively engage and recruit developers from outside the area to Duluth, who can help bring outside perspective on what works well in other communities.

That engagement includes promoting the unique and timely opportunities in Duluth with growing workforce needs and economic growth. It also includes addressing some of the factors that have traditionally discouraged developers from wanting to do business here and then changing that tired narrative.

Thanks to a strong partnership with the City of Duluth, and many others, progress has been made.

Yet, there is still much to do, and we are committed to doing that work together. Time is of the essence. Both for the sake our existing businesses who need workforce housing and taxpayers/businesses who need tax relief, we need more development as soon as possible.

Those of us who own a home/property recently received our proposed tax statements for the new year and many of us continue to see drastic increases at all levels that we know simply are not sustainable. These significant tax increases hurt taxpayers, hurt local businesses, could force some out of the area and likely prevent some developers from investing even more in the area – becoming a catch 22. That’s why the Duluth Area Chamber continues to advocate for more housing, workforce recruitment, and tax base growth to help move us away from an over-reliance on increased taxes.

I had the opportunity to travel to Fargo, North Dakota last week to spend time with a developer interested in Duluth and see some of their impressive work firsthand. They had an exciting initial visit to Duluth a couple months ago and Chamber President Matt Baumgartner was able to start a strong connection with them and our Chamber, which has only grown since. They see the historic opportunities here, as well as the challenges, and realize that Duluth is facing a pivotal moment and want to be part of our success. They’ve been heavily invested in the progress in downtown Fargo in recent years and have been very successful in doing some of the very things we’ve been talking about and are starting to make progress on including:

  • increasingly activating a historic downtown,
  • repurposing historic buildings, and
  • inspiring the future by redeveloping vacant lots into active, thriving spaces for residents, visitors, students, entrepreneurs, artists, and businesses.

To be clear, we don’t want to be Fargo or anywhere else except the most successful version of Duluth we can be. However, there are absolutely things we can and should learn from Fargo and other communities facing similar issues that we face in Duluth.

As the developers took us around several of their properties downtown Fargo, housing, and commercial/retail, it felt much like some of the progress we’ve seen in Duluth. It felt like a continuation of the thoughtful and strategic growth we’ve started to see and can see much more of as we honor the traditions for the past while also modernizing and revitalizing parts of our community. It was easy to visualize some of their building designs fitting in perfectly with some of the new growth in Lincoln Park, Downtown Duluth, or even in Lester Park or West Duluth. This developer will be visiting Duluth again in the coming weeks, and we plan to return to Fargo again soon, to continue the conversation and start moving closer to a shared vision and action.

That’s the key moving forward – not only recruiting development and investment but strategically and thoughtfully recruiting the right kind of investment and developers who share our vision and passion for community, responsible growth, and activation that we are striving for in Duluth. I use this developer in Fargo as an example, but there are others who are watching Duluth closely and are interested in being part of what can truly be a historic transformation and revitalization in the coming years.

This is the sort of work the Duluth Area Chamber (and the new Duluth Chamber Foundation) is increasingly involved in: research, recruitment, retention, strategic growth and activation of our community.

Time is of the essence, and we are committed to getting the work done and getting it right.

As we get into the holiday season, we are truly thankful for the support of our members, staff, Board of Directors, and all involved in this important work and vision. We are thankful for the relationships we have with key partners like the City, County, local developers and investors, and many more who have expressed interest in wanting to be involved and supportive of this work. We welcome and need your involvement, investment, and input. It’s an exciting time as we prepare for what will be a monumental year in 2023. We will keep you updated on progress, but please always feel free to contact us if you have questions, concerns or wish to discuss in more detail.

In solidarity,

Daniel Fanning
Vice President of Strategy & Policy
Executive Director of the Chamber Foundation
dfanning@duluthchamber.com
Direct: (218) 740-3743
Cell: (218) 260-3597

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce serves as the premier advocate for commerce and industry by facilitating interaction among business, government, education, labor, and the greater community by actively creating innovative opportunities for business to advance within local and global economies and encourages fairness in the political process by serving to help educate our members rather than endorsing or supporting political parties or affiliations.

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