DULUTH — When the historic Duluth Armory reopens its doors, count on local ice cream and craft beer.
Love Creamery and Warrior Brewing Co. are the first vendors announced for the planned food hall, market, music and arts space, a partnership between Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates and the nonprofit Armory Arts and Music Center.
The Armory will offer avenues for startup businesses and culture while highlighting the history of the space, making it a regional destination, said Sherman Associates' Dan Collison.
It's a "once in a generation" project that will redefine the neighborhood, he said.
Collison and Mark Poirier, executive director of the Armory nonprofit, shared plans for the Armory at a Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce lunch Tuesday.
Project costs have grown to $42 million since 2021 when it was first announced that the massive and long dormant building would be repurposed as a cultural and entrepreneurial venue. The Armory group this year asked the state via the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for $6.5 million for design and construction work. A request last year went unanswered when legislators failed to pass a bonding bill.
The group is also hoping for a reinstatement of the state historic tax credit program, which wasn't extended by legislators last year. If renewed, Sherman Associates would seek state credits to pair with similar federal credits, along with tax increment financing from the city of Duluth.
Once targeted by the city for demolition, the East Hillside building was constructed in 1915. It was a Minnesota National Guard and Naval Reserve training site through several wars and hosted concerts by the likes of Bob Hope and Johnny Cash, car shows, dances and even refugees during the 1918 wildfires that tore through the region.
The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 for its role as the home base of a port critical for military, and for being the city's largest event venue until 1966 when the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center opened.
Plans for the more than 100,000-square-foot multilevel building, which Poirier likened to the Market at Malcolm Yards in Minneapolis, also include a commercial kitchen to serve as a local food incubator. Those who start a business in that kitchen could eventually move to one of the dozen food hall slots, Collison said, who noted that eight other local vendors have signed letters of intent.
A restored stage and event space, a military "hall of heroes," a permanent Bob Dylan exhibit and an after-school music education program are also planned. (Dylan was in the audience of the Armory's 1959 Buddy Holly concert that took place in Duluth three days before Holly died in an Iowa plane crash.) Poirier said the Armory will likely become a new Homegrown Music Festival and farmer's market venue.
A reimagined Armory is expected to "have a massive economic impact in our region," said Matt Baumgartner, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
Sherman Associates CEO George Sherman has said state funding is a key driver of the project, one that he's been closely involved in. The developer was awarded $7 million in a state bonding bill for the $31 million historic NorShor Theatre renovation, completed in 2017.
Poirier said that while outside money is necessary for the project to move forward, he's confident it will. Construction is slated for 2024 with a 2025 opening.
"It's going to happen," said Poirier, whose organization raised nearly $5 million for restoration after purchasing the armory for $1 in 2003. "So many pieces have to come together, but we are getting through all of them."
Sherman Associates also counts the Sheraton Duluth Hotel and several apartment complexes among its projects within the city.