Things could be changing at the St. Louis County Depot.  For the first time ever, the county has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the 130-year old building; the term essentially means that they're actively looking for new tenants and exhibitors to utilize the facility as of 2023.

With a Request For Proposal in place, the county would seek to "potentially open up space for new tenants or change the space arrangements for existing tenants".  All applicants would be "analyzed based on how they fit with the mission and vision for the Depot".

As far as current tenants go, they're being encouraged to apply. Officials with St. Louis County consulted with them in advance of the Request For Proposal formation.

According to St. Louis County Depot Director Mary Tennis, the process is all about being "fair" and useful:

"We've made a lot of changes at the Depot in the last few years to improve operations, and this is another step.  The Request For Proposal process is transparent and fair, which the taxpayers of St. Louis County deserve because they are helping to subsidize the space in this building for our tenants."

Applicants would generally be from the non-profit world, but for-profits are encouraged to apply as well.

Lease rates for non-profits start at just under $5.00 per square foot. For-profit opportunities may also be available for a slightly higher minimum rate if they fit with the mission and vision of the building as a whole.  St. Louis County remains committed to a below market-rate rent and hopes the affordable cost and prime location will elevate and enable engaging organizations to flourish in the Northland.

Right now, the St. Louis County Depot is home to seven different non-profit organizations.  One of these organizations - one of the bigger ones in size - the Duluth Playhouse - has announced that it will be vacating its space at the end of 2022.

The Duluth Depot - St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center in Duluth, MN
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

To guide the operations at the Depot, St. Louis County has adopted a mission and vision statement for the facility:

"[The Depot serves} a landmark cornerstone of arts and cultural organizations that entertains, educates, inspires, and provides space for a diverse group of guests.  The St. Louis County Depot provides new, engaging experiences; is a destination and a community center; and fosters community through a diversity of education and entertainment that enhances the quality of life for visitors."

The last few years have seen significant improvements to both the operation and the physical building.  In 2019, the St. Louis County Board created a director position - hiring Mary Tennis for that job.  Then during the pandemic-related shutdown, the state provided funding via a bonding bill that allowed for roof repairs long-term drainage solutions in the basement, and new carpeting on the floors.

In addition, improvements were made to the Depot Great Hall, new electronic signage, better branding, and upgrades for the boardroom.

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