DULUTH — About 1,000 feet of badly eroded Duluth Harbor seawall will be replaced this summer, thanks to a hefty federal COVID relief grant.
The city was awarded $5 million in CARES Act Recovery Assistance by the Economic Development Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Another $3 million in state bonding money will help pay for the roughly $8 million project, which is part of a larger effort to revitalize the area behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC).
Officials said replacing the seawall is both critical to protecting the city from violent storms and in offering better access to large cruise ships, spurring the city's vital tourism industry.
"This will end at least several decades of destruction and reconstruction," while also stimulating Duluth's economy, said Jim Filby Williams, the city's director of parks and properties.
Parts of the seawall are as much as 90 years old. Without the necessary replacement, the walkway along the harbor would be subject to sinkholes, as sections of the Minnesota Slip were before its seawall was repaired in 2018, which meant towing the William A. Irvin ship museum out and then back in on harrowing journeys. Erosion is so heavy along some parts of the seawall behind the DECC that underneath, a vacuum exists. More frequent and intense storms creating forceful waves that crest the seawall could lead to sidewalk damage similar to what the city's Lakewalk faced in recent years.
Filby Williams said the city requested more assistance for the steel-intensive project after steel prices skyrocketed during the pandemic. The federal government nearly doubled the award.
"We are really grateful," he said, that the government recognized the "unprecedented market change."
Because a new seawall will make it easier for cruise ships to dock, that means more money will flow to Canal Park businesses. The project could ultimately result in 132 new jobs between the construction and hospitality industry, according to the city, and generate more than $25 million in private investment from cruise ships and other tourism.
"President Biden is committed to unleashing the full power of the federal government to ensure our nation not only recovers from this pandemic but builds back stronger," Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said in a news release. "This EDA investment will boost the Duluth area's tourism industry and leverage beautiful Lake Superior — all while building resiliency in the region's economy for decades to come."
The city is also planning a street closure behind the DECC to create a pedestrian-friendly plaza for large events.