Clyde Iron rises againby Bob Kelleher, Minnesota Public Radio
Few people outside Duluth remember a long gone company called Clyde Iron Works. But their hoists and cranes put the muscle into America's logging industry and helped build national monuments. The company's empty old buildings still stand just off I-35. Now, they're about to come back to life, as a market, a brewery, a hotel, and a public sports center.
Duluth, Minn. — You can sense the spirits of long-gone workers in this building - one of almost a dozen brick structures, imposing, and cavernous, spread over about 10 acres.
To Alessandro Giuliani, these buildings aren't cold and hollow - they're history - a link to a long ago Duluth of blue collars, hot smelters, and cold iron.
We leave the daylight and step into gray dimness.
"Tell me this isn't just beautiful," says Giuliani, a Duluth businessman and developer.
The old factory is the size of a sports field. Daylight shafts slice from a high bank of windows, across rugged wooden pillars, to the concrete floor. In this industrial cathedral you tend to speak softly, almost with reverence.
Clyde Iron's fame begins in the early 1900's with the McGiffert Log Loader - a railroad-mounted steam-fired log loading beast built in Duluth. The McGiffert helped clear forests from Maine to Washington.
"That's what started them," Giuliani says. "Over the years they evolved into making a lot of the equipment that was used in building the Empire State Building, the subway system out in New York, the Panama Canal."
Clyde Iron specialized in heavy-duty hoists, derricks and cranes. Their harbor whirly cranes were found in ports around the world.
The building we're in was originally built as a huge stable.
"This was, and over the years they ended up doing assembly work in here," Giuliani says. "But it was the original building, back to 1898. And, yeah, it does look rough, but I think it's just beautiful."
This building is the oldest. It's the only one made entirely of wood. In a year, it will be a modern market. It will be completely restored; with fresh produce, baked goods and meats for sale alongside Italian and Mexican eateries.
A sturdy brick building across a gravel parking lot is the future craft brewery. Forty years ago they bottled Karlsbrau beer there. The office building on the corner will become a hotel. Altogether, Giuliani plans a major renovation that's going to cost more than $30 million.
But he'll save most of the buildings, and the proud story of the Clyde Iron Works.
City officials are thrilled with Giuliani's plans. The buildings represent something that's quickly disappearing.
"The buildings are general for the community of an industrial era - the clear story lighting, the long clear spans," says Bob Bruce, Duluth Planning Director. "The basic form of those buildings was repeated in many, many other places in industrial installations in town. And there's not many left."
But it's the sports center that grabbed the public's attention. Two new buildings will jut from Clyde's old assembly building, for public hockey, indoor soccer and softball. The Duluth Heritage Sports Center will replace a public rink lost to fire two years ago.
It will be owned and operated by a non-profit organization. Promoters say it's about more than hockey - it's about one of Duluth's needier neighborhoods.
"Taking a look at a 50 year old brownfield site that's a blight on the community, and turning a major portion of lower Lincoln Park into a place and a destination point which will draw people, families and kids, and give a boost to our tourism industry," says Dick Loraas, President of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center Corporation.
"This has a lot of very positive impacts for non-hockey Duluth," Loraas says.
This project, he says, has huge potential - not unlike the way Grandmas restaurant spurred what's today's popular Canal Park district on Duluth's waterfront.
"You can build an indoor ice plant just about anywhere," Loraas says. "We're doing something that I think has far greater long term positive impact on the community than just putting up a steel building and throwing a piece of ice in it."
Private donations will pay most of the $16 million price tag for the sports center, although the Duluth school district, the city, and the state have also committed money. Alessandro Giuliani's retail development is privately financed, beyond some tax breaks.
Giuliani says he hopes to make money on the venture, but he really wants to make a difference.
"It's going to start a lot of good things for out here," says Giuliani. "I can't wait."
The new market and brewery could be open by mid-year; the sports center by next fall.
- Morning Edition, 12/01/2006, 7:45 a.m.