LISC National

Artists and Entrepreneurs Lift Up Lincoln Park

By Pam Kramer, Executive Director of Duluth LISC

When was the last time you visited Lincoln Park’s West Superior Street?  If it’s been a while, you might not recognize it. The area has shaken off its past of shuttered storefronts and abandoned industrial sites, emerging as a creative hub for artists and entrepreneurs.

This weekend’s Lincoln Park Open House will showcase the area’s renewed economic energy, offering visitors and shoppers the chance to stroll through craft manufacturers, galleries, and restaurants.

What visitors won’t see is how that all came about…the foundation of local collaboration and investments that have spurred growth in the area. Lincoln Park is a model for how to leverage businesses focused on local craft manufacturing to fuel community revitalization.

Just over a decade ago, the contaminated site of the former Clyde Iron manufacturing plant at 29th and Michigan was an abandoned eyesore that loomed over I-35 and dragged down the surrounding community. Today, after years of redevelopment, it is home to the Essentia Health Duluth Heritage Sports Center, the Goldberg Family Boys and Girls Club, the Duluth Children’s Museum and Clyde Iron Works restaurant and entertainment venue.

But it was more than an isolated redevelopment effort. It was a turning point for the neighborhood. It proved that Lincoln Park could be a great place to live, work, visit and shop.

The nearby commercial corridor on West Superior Street is a prime example. Since 2014, it has attracted a new creative class of entrepreneurs that have put down roots in the area and sought ways to both attract additional businesses and engage residents in ongoing activities. They built the Lincoln Park Craft Business District.

The district includes a cobbler producing hand-made shoes and other leather goods. Her shop is down the block from a folk arts school and near a workshop for handcrafted canvas gear, which also includes Love Creamery’s organic ice cream. There is a microbrewery just a short walk away, and a new pottery gallery located across the street from a barbeque restaurant, which opened this year. 

In all, 18 new businesses have opened their doors in the craft business district —fast becoming a lively, walkable, shopable promenade. Beyond its ability to attract shoppers and tourists, it offers residents a new range of goods and services, along with brighter, safer streets.

None of that happens by accident. I can speak to that first hand, as my organization, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), has been deeply engaged in helping convene and fund organizations and programs that make up Lincoln Park’s unique community infrastructure.

Advancing Lincoln Park, for instance, is a cohort of local businesses working to attract like-minded entrepreneurs to the area. Their efforts are fueled by the Entrepreneur Fund, a business accelerator, and Ecolibrium3, a nonprofit working to engage residents and businesses toward an equitable and sustainable future. The City joined the effort as well, creating the Advance West Loan Fund to help bridge start-up financing gaps (it’s providing the same kind of financing in West Duluth) and encourage entrepreneurs to open their doors in the area.

LISC has been proud to support all of these efforts with grants, loans, equity investments and technical assistance, while also supporting broader efforts around employment, good housing, food access, health and other quality of life issues.

There are still challenges, to be sure—chief among them being the need for more jobs in the community. This weekend’s Open House contributes to that long-term effort, as more than 30 businesses and organizations showcase the value of operating and hiring in the neighborhood. They have dubbed the movement #CraftingSomethingGreat.

That name is telling in so many ways. It says that we can build economic opportunity in places that were once marred by blight and deliver the quality of life our residents want and need. Walk through or hop on the free Lincoln Park bus on Saturday, see what can be achieved and join us in this exciting transformation.