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Superior Craft School proposal gains momentum

With business plan in hand, Superior's Jeff Dorfman envisions a spring 2023 opening.

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A woodworking class meets at Dorfman Co. in Superior on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. The group, left to right, Jeff Dorfman, Kathy Ide, Jon Lindquist and Sue Kohlbry, have been meeting at the Superior business for the last three years. "You never know what's going on in your neighborhood," said Dorfman, who plans to build a craft school in Superior.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Jeff Dorfman of Superior has envisioned a craft school in his hometown for a decade. The idea has been reinforced by classes he’s taken at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais and elsewhere.

“This is something that I’ve thought about for 10 years,” said Dorfman, a cabinet maker and general contractor. “I actually didn’t think I’d be the one doing it.”

His plan for a Superior craft school—a blend of classrooms, apartments and Airbnb rentals on what was once part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation parking lot—was highlighted by Superior Mayor Jim Paine in his state of the city address last week.

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It’s not a done deal yet, Dorfman said. He recently finished his business plan with help from the Entrepreneur Fund in Duluth. It was set for a review late this week. If it passes, he'll seek funding for the building.

“I have to say, my financing isn’t completely secured yet,” Dorfman said, but he feels he has the equity position to do it.

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A drawing shows the proposed Mission Flats building, which would house the Superior Craft School. The building, a mix of classrooms, apartments, Airbnb rentals and a retail store, would be built on the 300 block of Tower Avenue in the city-owned section of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation parking lot.
Contributed / Jeff Dorfman

His goal is to open the Mission Flats Building, where the craft school will be housed, by spring of 2023.

“Hopefully we get to that finish line,” said Jason Serck, the city's planning, economic development and port director.

A move by the Superior City Council paved the way for the project, which would include seven apartments on the second floor and five Airbnb units on the ground floor. The council on May 3 unanimously approved an ordinance allowing mixed-use developments in light manufacturing, or M1, districts of the city.

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Jeff Dorfman of Superior smiles as Kathy Ide of Hermantown holds up one of the ornaments he's been working on during a woodworking class at Dorfman Co. in Superior on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Dorfman plans to build a craft school in Superior's North End neighborhood.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Prior to that, building new residential housing in manufacturing areas was not allowed. The ordinance does not open the door to building single-family homes, according to Serck. Housing developments would only be allowed in manufacturing areas if they also include a commercial component.

The new ordinance applies to Connors Point and other areas in the city’s downtown North End neighborhood.

“I have a feeling this might open it up a little bit, potentially,” Serck said.

The city purchased the parking lot on the 300 block of Tower Avenue about five years ago from the DOT, he said, and it is appraised at $37,500. The city is in the early stages of discussion with the Superior cabinetmaker about purchasing the lot.

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Wooden items crafted by Kathy Ide of Hermantown rest on a table at Dorfman Co. in Superior on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. A woodworking class has been meeting in the Superior wood shop since the pandemic hit.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The craft school Dorfman envisions will offer programs for all ages, ranging from photography and sewing to woodworking. There will be a darkroom, a 700-square-foot training kitchen and a soundproof production room for filming YouTube videos, he said. The Lake Superior Woodturners Association has reached out to him about securing a home in the craft school, as well. A retail shop in the building would sell work by local crafters, including the students.

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“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I think it would be a great addition,” said Dorfman, who leads a weekly wood carving class at his cabinet shop.

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Jon Lindquist of Lakewood Township in Duluth carves a wooden house that he plans to turn into a luminary on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at Dorfman Co. in Superior.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The class has been meeting at Dorfman Co. on Winter Street since the pandemic began. Before that it was at Ordean School. It's also met at East High School and Woodland Junior High School over the years. Sue Kohlbry of Duluth has been attending the class for 20 years. The site moves, the number of attendees fluctuates, but she said at its heart it's about creativity and friendship. Oh, and also sweet treats.

"Jelly beans are a must," Kohlbry said, and she's happy to supply them.

What did they think of bringing a craft school to Superior?

"I think it's a great idea. Too many people are looking for something to do, whether it's just socialization, being around people" or creating things, said Kathy Ide of Hermantown.

The woodworkers sometimes work on the same project—Jon Lindquist of Lakewood Township in Duluth taught them all to make knife handles and leather sheaths—other times they work on separate items. Along the way, they find inspiration in the projects their classmates are doing.

The North House Folk School has really given Grand Marais its identity, Dorfman said. A Superior craft school could do the same.

“There’s a lot of creative people in this community. A lot of creative people at the university and even in grade schools and high school. So hopefully this will be an extension of that and people can come in, come and have fun,” Dorfman said.

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Left to right, Kathy Ide of Hermantown, Jon Lindquist of Lakewood Township in Duluth and Sue Kohlbry of Duluth work on individual projects during a woodworking class on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in Superior.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.