Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Shelly Howard, second from left, points something out to her husband, David Cossette, far left, Alan Dickerson, Georgia Cities Foundation community development manager and Chris McGahee, economic development manager for city of Duluth during a meeting at their vacant Duluth store front. Howard and Cossette, the property owners, are transforming the former antiques shop into a pub, "Tavern on Main."
DULUTH -- David Cossette has seen the nighttime crowds file out of Red Clay Theatre.
The local entrepreneur has observed as concertgoers, young and old, exit the local music venue at night only to leave the city in search of the next p.m. adventure.
It makes him wince.
"People walk out. They loaf around outside for a minute and they get in their cars and leave town," Cossette said. "People are taking their money elsewhere."
Cossette and his wife Shelly Howard plan to do something about that.
The couple recently closed an antiques and collectibles shop downtown for renovations. They requested permission earlier this week from the Downtown Development Authority to take out a loan for the improvements. When the building reopens in several months as Tavern on Main, nighttime patrons will be able to drop by for a beer and sandwich, or wine and tapas, before leaving Duluth.
Chris McGahee, economic development manager of Duluth, said the boost in downtown nightlife business is part of a larger trend toward reinventing the city as a "destination with an identity."
"As it becomes more of a destination, you'll have transitions like this one," McGahee said. "It will definitely trend toward other buildings heading into entertainment ventures. It creates a whole new attractive ambience."
The traffic patterns created by Red Clay Theatre, which opened in December, have given business owners like Cossette and Howard "the idea that they can capture that traffic...they want people to stay downtown, and that's the goal," McGahee said. "Once the patron is here, it's about keeping them around so they can discover all the other shops and everything Duluth has to offer."
The city of Duluth is bracing for the trend.
Government officials are currently soliciting bids for better night lighting in the downtown area as well as repainting crosswalks and parking spaces to make it safer and easier to navigate.
"We're putting in lighting so that wherever you park in the 730 free parking spaces that it's well-lit, and we're resurfacing parking areas," McGahee said.
McGahee said officials with the city want to invest in the "reinvention and adaptive reuse" of the downtown historic area.
"Adaptive reuse means we're meeting the needs of the times we're in," he said. "We're trying to attract people back here to a nice city center that's full of fun options and full of things to do."
Creating such an atmosphere, he said, creates a "generational legacy."
The historic structures downtown make that possible. "Having this stock of historic buildings means that no matter what has happened over the years, the buildings have survived it. You can talk to someone who is 90 years old who remembers some of these buildings, and they can share that memory with a young person who is enjoying downtown Duluth for their very first time."
Tavern on Main owners said they appreciate the historical aspects of the building they will occupy.
While renovating the old antiques store this week, Tavern on Main co-owner Shelly Howard said workers came across some of the original brickwork behind the wall. "It's incredible to see that," Howard said. "Visually, it's remarkable."
Howard said "there's a lot of excitement" about the future of downtown Duluth. "We are thrilled to be a part of it."
Tavern on Main is slated to open in about three months with a dining and bar area that will seat about 50.