Ely becomes less reliant on mining as tourist economy booms

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, August 3, 2016

ELY — A Minnesota community that once placed its economic well-being on mining alone has worked to develop alternatives to sustaining the local economy, including tourism.

The town of Ely has seen recent improvements, including the restoration of historic buildings downtown and several new business startups and expansions, MPR News reported.

“Ely is on a roll,” said Paul Schurke, who owns Wintergreen Northern Wear in downtown Ely. “There’s so much rehab and redevelopment going on that it’s become a standing joke that the dumpster is taking up parking spots in the street and will soon have to become art projects of some kind.”

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Tanner Ott and his father John have a Missouri-based firm that rehabilitates historic buildings. The pair, who has spent summer vacations in Ely for 25 years, has purchased eight long-vacant downtown buildings.

In 2014, they began renovating the State Theater, which opened Saturday for the first time in 20 years. They hope the 300-seat venue will be an event venue for movies, live music, business conferences and weddings.

“For us to play a small part in everything that goes on here gives us a lot of satisfaction,” John Ott said.

Local leaders said the new investments will help Ely create an economic core that’s more than tourism.

“It’s definitely a renaissance,” said Kara Polyner, an Ely City Council member and board member for Incredible Ely, a group working to revitalize the downtown and attract more visitors. “I think we’re on this precipice, where we could really take off again.”