The Downtown Task Force hosted a "Brick and Mortar Game" workshop Tuesday to learn how to create eye-catching window displays.
More than 100 people attended, including local business and property owners, as well as other community leaders.
The session provided inspiration, affordable design ideas, lighting solutions, and floor plan layout tips and tricks for buildings of all types, from dentist offices, to government centers and coffee shops.
Providing the training on storefront improvements and downtown activation was national consultant Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants, along with her team from Up Design Lounge and Frontdoor Back.
Reeves returned to Duluth after previously providing consulting services to the Lincoln Park Craft District area nearly eight years ago.
"You can see the transformation that has taken place in Lincoln Park," said Duluth Mayor Emily Larson . "I love when it goes from concerns about safety to concerns about we don't have enough parking because so many people are coming here."
According to Reeves, tourists love the Craft District because it feels as if they are dipping their toe into Duluth. "I feel like the businesses there know each other. You can sense that, and feel there is this cross-pollination and collaboration," Reeves added.
Since the revitalization of the Craft District, the Duluth Police Department 's calls for service in that area have reduced from 1,200 in 2015 to 523 calls in 2021, Larson said.
"We have heard concerns about safety. We have heard concerns about some reduced activity in our downtown. There are things that we can all do to help play a role in improving that," Downtown Duluth President Kristi Stokes said during the event. "All of our conversations about this have started with the mayor's Downtown Task Force, when we tried to determine things that we could do to help bring more tools to the businesses and to the property owners."
The 14-member task force formed earlier this year and has met privately through September. Larson said it intends to provide recommendations to the city by the end of the month. So far, preliminary recommendations of the task force included a neighborhood watch program; hiring a prosecutor; funding public art projects; conducting a five-year business district outlook study; and repurposing vacant downtown office space into housing.
The police department is actively working with the citizen-led task force on how to support its initiatives on safety, activation, investment and vision, said Chief Mike Ceynowa.
"It's incredibly important to have more people downtown utilizing our retail shops, utilizing our professional services that are in the area, going to dinner, being out and about and being seen," Ceynowa said. "The more people that we have there, it becomes less comfortable for people who have an ill intent or who want to commit crimes. It's so much harder because it's more visible when there's more of us out and about — not just police officers, but community members."
Overall, crime downtown has increased slightly, in part due to businesses reopening following the pandemic shutdowns, Ceynowa said.
"Largely, it is low-level nuisance, more social issues than actual criminal activity. It's people experiencing mental health issues, substance use issues, unsheltered issues," according to Ceynowa. He added that broader solutions, such as treatment and supportive services needed for people to get back on their feet, must come at the state and county levels.
In addition to working with the police department, Stokes said improving safety is also about "activating downtown."
According to Reeves, one way to build safety, sales and vibrancy downtown is to attract and showcase people for at least 18 hours a day by making the ground floor active, engaging and multi-sensory.
"How long do you spend looking at something when you don't know what it is, when it doesn't show you what it is?" Reeves asked the audience. "Zero. You spend zero additional seconds investigating that. Do you think that impacts your business?"
Providing interesting window displays with proper lighting, or a fresh coat of paint are affordable methods to lure people to the city center by encouraging activity on the sidewalks, Reeves explained to the audience. The team's pilot project to transform a window display at Minnesota Surplus and Outfitters at 218 W. Superior St. was presented to the audience as an example.
Downtown sidewalk activity equates to economic success, Reeves said. People want to live, work, shop and travel where there is activity; all things that contribute to higher rental prices, ground floor sales and building values, which Reeves explained ultimately impact the downtown Duluth's tax base.
"When I go to downtown, I feel like you guys don't like each other, that none of you are talking to each other, that you don't really want me to visit because it feels closed," Reeves said. "It's inward facing. You're not showing me who you are. You're not showcasing people. Everything has turned internal and inside. That's why all you have to do is just daylight and showcase, to a large degree, what is already here."
Stokes added: "We are looking at an incentive program, so we're hoping to be able to unveil some of that when we provide recommendations from the mayor's Downtown Task Force."
To view the story on the Duluth News Tribune's website: https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/how-curb-appeal-can-improve-public-safety-in-downtown-duluth