The big question downtown: What's next?

Work is still underway on Tower Avenue to remove elements of the city's past. Even as workers chiseled away remnants of brick and mortar left behind after the demolition of the Palace Theater and Odyssey's and End Zone bars, city officials are st...

Work is still underway on Tower Avenue to remove elements of the city's past.

Even as workers chiseled away remnants of brick and mortar left behind after the demolition of the Palace Theater and Odyssey's and End Zone bars, city officials are starting to look to the future and redevelopment of Central Business District commercial sites.

In the wake of demolition, the city is left with a 50- by 140-foot site south of 11th Street and a 75- by 140-foot site immediately to the north. It's created one of the largest downtown vacancies in decades.

"We've got something here," said Port and Planning Director Jason Serck. "We've got a fresh slate. We've got a very large piece of property here, and we haven't had that for quite some time."

Serck said the last time the city had land available for redevelopment downtown was after a 1998 fire destroyed the former Tower Building on the northwest corner of North 14th Street and Tower Avenue. Then, property owner John Mahan constructed the Millennium Building in the footprint of its predecessor.


No specific plans

When city officials started to negotiate the purchase of Odyssey's and the End Zone taverns earlier this year, sites were set on creating green. A plan for the site, developed for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, called for a space with benches and a few trees where residents from the surrounding neighborhood could gather.

The city planned to pay for the structures with Community Development Block Grant money, and the project was designed on the premise of benefiting low- and moderate-income neighbors.

The original plan changed when city councilors opted to withdraw their CDBG request to cover the expense of buying the two bars. No specific plan was ever devised for the Palace Theater site.

"As far as the sites themselves are concerned, we will get them up to a level of acceptance as much as we can with the weather conditions," said Jeff Vito, city public works and economic development director. "Next spring, we'll go in and top soil them and put grass in there. That's the short-term plan."

The long-term plan is to redevelop the area, he said, but city officials are uncertain what form that might take. Specific goals are yet to be outlined, and while city officials have started to stir the waters, there so far are no specific proposals.

"From a development standpoint, I think we're really going to keep an open mind on potential projects for that particular site," Serck said. "We're talking everything from some Class A office space to some potential mixed-use housing and some retail. I think we're pretty open-minded to everything."

The market will decide how the site is developed, said Mayor Dave Ross.


"It's absolutely a great, developable site," said Kaye Tenerelli, director of the Superior Business Improvement District. "As much as it pained us to watch the Palace Theater go down -- and it did -- it kind of left a hole in our stomach. Now all of a sudden you have this expanse of land that is developable, without wetland issues. And it is kind of changing the dynamics in the way that area looks."

She said it's foreseeable that the city could vacate North 11th Street and offer the area for redevelopment as one site to a single entity. But the BID doesn't have specific plans yet.

"Have we dreamed and said this is what we want to see on it? No," Tenerelli said.

Opportunities ahead

While specific plans aren't in place, city officials said they do have some general goals they would like to accomplish when considering new development. And BID officials are hoping to be at the table to help guide new downtown development.

"That's something our board has had some discussion on," Tenerelli said. "We are getting ready to do a full-scale market study for the BID, and that will help identify what we need, what will work well and what will our consumer base support. I think you have to have all that information."

While there isn't a specific plan in place, Ross said one of the goals is development that's compatible with the surrounding architecture.

"If you take a drive through our downtown, there's more than just one building that doesn't even come close," Ross said. "We have a hodge-podge of buildings, and I'm not a historian, but if you drive in our downtown, you will see buildings built in the '40s standing next to buildings that were built in the 1890s that are not consistent architecturally. There wasn't any consistency in the last 100 years ... The downtown has a proliferation of inconsistent styles."


Developing some consistency is a goal shared by the city's planning director.

"I would hope that whoever wanted to develop that area would want to match some of the elevations that are going on in that area ... match up some of the buildings -- rather than doing a small one-story, 50-by-whatever -- to make it look like its been there for a while."

Ross said he's not certain the city will achieve a historic downtown theme some would like to see, "but we certainly want to avoid those new eyesores to our downtown."

Vito said the new development, whatever that might be, is just the beginning for Superior's downtown renaissance.

"Long term, there's a couple things going on," he said. "We're scheduled right now for total reconstruction of Tower from Belknap to about Fourth Street for 2011. Our belief is that if we can get a good project in there, get through the major face lift, it can help revitalize and bring business back into the downtown area."

Shelley Nelson covers Superior/Douglas County. Call (715) 394-4421, ext. 134 or e-mail .

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