“It’s finally happening,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson exclaimed Tuesday at an event to commemorate rehabilitation work at the historic NorShor Theater.

“More and more, we are known for our renaissance, our rebirth and our growth. There’s no better story to reaffirm that than the beautiful NorShor Theater,” she said.

The Duluth Playhouse – which will manage the NorShor and produce many of its live theater productions – has spent a decade working with the city, Duluth Economic Development Authority, Duluth LISC, Sherman and Associates and lenders to help plan the $30.5 million restoration. Larson said the effort goes far beyond historic preservation.

“We’re not here just because of … the aesthetics of this space. We’re here because the creative economy means $40 million to Duluth every year,” she said.

The project has considerably grown in scope since DEDA acquired the structure. Former Mayor Don Ness admitted that assembling the financial package was extremely complicated, but it spared local taxpayers from the costs. The funding includes $6.95 million from a state grant, $3.8 million from state historic tax credits, a legacy grant of $150,000, $1.7 million from a DEDA tax increment finance district, $3.1 million from federal historic tax credits, new market tax credits valued at $4.9 million and $2.3 million from the Duluth Playhouse.

In my mind, this project – and getting to this moment – is really an embodiment of the new sense of optimism in the city of Duluth,” Ness said.

DEDA President Nancy Norr said the project advanced due to a strong vision plus community support and proven experience by the partners.

“Now we need the community to step in and truly be a part of this new vision – to see it through and to be a part of creating this legacy,” she said.

The Playhouse will soon launch a public fundraising campaign to raise $4.5 million to meet its project obligation, said Herb Minke, chairman of the Playhouse Board.

“To date, we’ve already had a significant commitment from a lot of businesses and individuals who have stepped forward,” he said. “We are looking for commitments, both large and small.”

With construction work underway, said downtown brewer and restaurateur Rod Raymond, the neighborhood will become a magnet for private investment.

“Anyone who invests in this area will get their money back tenfold,” he said.

Timing could be key to whether business owners benefit from the investment, said Ed Gleeson, owner of Carmody Irish Club, less than a block away. The NorShor is set to open late next year. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of East Superior Street is set to begin in 2018.

 “I’m cautiously optimistic about what will happen with the NorShor,” he said, and hopes it opens before reconstruction work begins on Superior Street. But if the theater is not up and running before Superior Street is torn up outside of his front door, Gleeson fears the loss of customer traffic could be a fatal blow to some neighborhood food and beverage businesses.