'All hands on deck' at Downtown Duluth's 38th annual meeting

April 20, 2023

Members of the business advocacy organization Downtown Duluth took to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Harbor Side Ballroom on Tuesday for the group's 38th Annual Meeting and Celebration.

Dave McMillaninterim chancellor at University of Minnesota Duluth, was keynote speaker of the event with over 500 attendees.

"Everybody knows we educate folks. For me, coming out of the private sector, that equates very closely with workforce development. It is basically what we do most of the time," McMillan said.

He noted that 97% of graduates are either employed or on their way to graduate school when they finish their terms at UMD, and more than 50% of students graduate with practical experience in a cooperative or internship settings.

In addition to education, research is also central to what the University of Minnesota offers — $24 million of externally funded research that is usually regionally focused, McMillan said.

Outreach is also part of the university's mission, which includes Glensheen, Minnesota Sea Grant and the Water Resources Center, Tweed Museum of Art and Bulldog athletics.

Aside from campus activities, UMD has a presence downtown. For example, the university acts as the biggest stakeholder of Amsoil Arena, "Home of the Bulldogs."

Commencement is another example that fills the arena twice with friends and family members of college graduates, he said. UMD students also find employment downtown, and participate in service learning opportunities with organizations like First Ladies of the Hillside, Steve O'Neil Apartments, the Center for Regional and Child Welfare Studies, and the University of Minnesota Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team.

"All of those things exist downtown today," McMillan said.

According to McMillan, Duluth currently has a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for the university to bring clinical research and education in the heart of the Medical District with the Duluth Academic Health Project to further its presence downtown.

The College of Medicine graduated 2,000 physicians, of which two-third stay in the state and 50% practice in cities of 20,000 or fewer. Essentia's Vision Northland will be opening soon and St. Luke's starts phase two of its health forward campus redevelopment initiative next month.

"The state of Minnesota, the city of Duluth are all deeply invested into the Medical District. Now is a perfect time for the state and university to invest in a new campus facility," Mayor Emily Larson said in a video played during McMillan's speech.

The Duluth Academic Health Project expansion provides an opportunity to grow the university's footprint in clinical training and research.

"The university is all in for this. Where do we stand today? We've been in two past bonding bills. We've got a $12 million request out to the state that we can pair with $6 million of university funding and that gives us the wherewithal to design and get that thing moving," McMillan said. "We need this thing to get in the bonding bill this year to make a consequential investment that I think will pay dividends for a long, long time."

The university is also investing in water research with a new facility on Lot D, the 12-acre property located just west of the Pier B Resort Hotel. It is owned by the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

UMD water research is currently centered at the Large Lakes Observatory, Minnesota Sea Grant and the Natural Resources Research Institute.

"This is where LLO, the only research institution of its kind focused on and devoted to the science of large lakes, exists. There's three buildings remaining on the old main campus," McMillan said. "Two of them turned into housing, which is an important use. And we're in one that will celebrate its 99th year of existence and was not built to be a research lab."

"We have an old place, and we don't have a place to store our wonderful ship, and our Sea Grant facility is landlocked on campus," McMillan added.

According to McMillan, Lot D is the last remaining opportunity to develop land along the shore and harbor front that doesn't compete with industrial waterfront.

Less than 1% of the planet's water is fresh, liquid and accessible, McMillan said. Ten percent of that water is in the Great Lakes.

"Given our location, we think we have a very special and very important responsibility to take water seriously and to take our research duty seriously," McMillan said.

It will require a large investment by community stakeholders because parts of Lot D are falling into the bay and there is an old facility that will need to be removed. So far, the feasibility, wave and geomagnetic studies have been completed and the university is exploring funding opportunities.

"This will take an all hands on deck, no pun intended, opportunity with philanthropy, public funding and university funding," McMillan said. "This is big. This is a game changer, along with the medical and pharmacy opportunity where we find ways to build UMD and University of Minnesota into downtown and into the waterfront."

The project would help "make Duluth front and center of fresh-water research, not only in the state but across the nation," McMillan said.