Case Study: City of Duluth, Coffee and Conversation Series


Challenge: Based on recommendations from its Red Tap Task Force and other community initiatives, the City of Duluth sought greater collaboration between its own staff and commercial development stakeholders.

Northspan’s Role: Facilitated three coffee and conversation events to connect city staff with developers, commercial realtors, design professionals, entrepreneurs, business owners, and commercial contractors. City staff presented on how to questions developers should ask before buying a building, code compliance, and differences between building methods and the events were held at local buildings that provided examples of the processes.

Results: The events were well-attended and well-received by stakeholders and created a foundation for further collaboration.

Sometimes just a little bit of coffee and a chat can make all the difference in turning a new development into reality. Over the course of 2019, Northspan President & CEO Elissa Hansen facilitated a series of three Coffee and Conversation events that sought to connect City of Duluth staff with a range of businesses, community members, and professionals involved in development and redevelopment processes. All three events took place at buildings in the community that had gone through the city review process and provided real-world examples of the processes necessary to get projects off the ground.

The three-part series featured themed events on different stages of the development process:

  • The first event, “Is This the Right Building for You?” sought to educate project stakeholders while they evaluated new building projects. It was held on May 22 at Bent Paddle, an example of a successful reuse of 100-year-old building.
  • The second event asked, “What Does ‘Up to Code’ Mean to You?” and gave an overview of city code requirements. It took place on September 17 at the historic and iconic Norshor Theater, which was recently renovated and revived.
  • The final event, “So I Think I Have a Plan, Now What?” walked through expectations and responsibilities as those involved in the development process work with the city to complete their projects. It took place on November 6 at the Crooked Pint in Kenwood, a business in the newly constructed Kenwood Village mixed-use building.

The events were part of a concerted effort by the city to demystify government processes and build collaboration. The stated goals of the series were to reduce perceived city government red tape during construction projects and get the word out on the “city staff every business owner should know.” Its broad target audience included developers, commercial realtors, design professionals, entrepreneurs, business owners, and commercial contractors. City staff from both the Planning & Development and Construction Services divisions presented at each meeting on their roles in the development process.

“I appreciate the city taking the effort to do this,” wrote one attendee in an anonymous survey after the event. Other respondents thanked city staff for their efforts and found topics timely for their current projects. “The city is willing to help,” several wrote.

The Coffee and Conversation series emerged from ideas generated by the Duluth Red Tape Reduction Task Force and a recommendation from Northspan’s 2018 Housing for the Next Generation of Duluth’s Workforce report. This series is just one example of how Northspan commits to long-term work with its clients to move ideas for improved processes into reality with tangible results.

Reference: : Wendy Rannenberg, & Britt McAdamis, 

Contact Elissa Hansen at for more information.