The husband and wife team of Andy Matson and Chelsy Whittington plan to open the three-suite hotel on the second floor of a historic building they recently purchased at 1923 W. Superior Street. The new accommodations will be called the Hotel Pikku, which means small or odd in Finnish.
Matson and Whittington said travelers who want to experience a trendy, centrally-located neighborhood away from typical Duluth tourist areas will stay at the Pikku Hotel. Clients or patrons of other Lincoln Park businesses are also potential lodgers. The cozy, completely renovated rooms with kitchenettes will rent for between $100 and $150 a night.
“We’re really excited that there’s so much going on here,” said Whittington. “We think it’s a great location.”
Both Whittington and Matson are new to the hotel business. Whittington is a visitor experience and events manager at Vikre Distillery and Matson owns and operates the family run Great! Lakes Candy Store in Knife River. The couple searched the city for potential properties until finding what they wanted in Lincoln Park, just six blocks from their house.
“Whenever we would walk around down here we always stopped and looked inside buildings,” said Whittington. “I always liked this one, it had a great look from the street and high ceilings.”
“For two years there was table saw in the middle of the room just sitting there,” said Matson.
The couple figured out who owned the property, made an offer and finalized a deal in April 2016.
“I always wanted a hotel — and then the idea of having one that was small and easy to manage made it feel like it was something we could do,” said Whittington.
Matson and Whittington rented the lower portion of the building to Hemlocks Leatherworks shortly after purchasing the property. Owned by Candace LaCosse, the shoemaker was among the first wave of new businesses in the historic neighborhood.
According to a June 2017 Historic Resources Inventory of Lincoln Park, the building at 1923 W. Superior was designed as a store and flats by Duluth architects John J. Wagenstein and William E. Baillie in 1899. Matson said the building served as a Swedish bakery for decades before being used by the St. Vincent de Paul organization and an accounting office. The second floor always housed apartments.
The hotel project adds another feature to the once neglected West End, which has been rebranded as a “craft district” that includes new restaurants, galleries, breweries and a folk school. The neighborhood boom was recently highlighted in a Minneapolis Star Tribune feature.
The city of Duluth has assisted in the revitalization, creating the 1200 Fund Advance West Loan Program specifically for new business projects west of downtown Duluth. Matson and Whittington landed a $40,000 loan for the Hotel Pikku project.
Whittington said the loan helped put finishing touches on room renovations and complete the building storefront.
“Things are always more expensive than you think,” said Matson.
Duluth Director of Business and Economic Development Heather Rand said the Hotel Pikku is a good example of the program goals. She said the city is using money from a 30-year-old redevelopment fund to provide financial help for west-side renovation projects.
“Most of these buildings are obsolete,” said Rand. “Bringing them back to life is very expensive. It’s just that little bit of financing that’s there to help them bring things up to code.”
Five projects, including two on the same block as Hotel Pikku — OMC Smokehouse and Duluth Pottery, have tapped the same loan source. Frost River is under consideration this week for a loan to help add office space to its West Superior Street facility, said Rand.
“For us, it’s exciting to see these structures come back to life and create some jobs as well,” she said.
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