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Preserving ‘a strong sense of place’

Ott realty company works to revitalize Ely’s downtown district

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/4/21

ELY – Economic development in this city’s downtown district is enjoying a real jumpstart by a small real estate company with humble beginnings. Alley A Realty was started in 2007 in …

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Preserving ‘a strong sense of place’

Ott realty company works to revitalize Ely’s downtown district


ELY – Economic development in this city’s downtown district is enjoying a real jumpstart by a small real estate company with humble beginnings. Alley A Realty was started in 2007 in Columbia, Mo., and the family’s connection to northern Minnesota helped expand their vision.
Their mission statement is simple:
“We create and lease fresh and revived spaces in Downtown Ely. Our vision is a growing creative community full of artists, entrepreneurs, businesses and restaurants that make downtown a place where people want to be.”
Alley A Realty’s Tanner Ott provided an update on the development company’s near-decade of projects at Tuesday Group this week. The session grew into a community brain-storming discussion on what is needed to continue the revitalization of this community.
Alley A Realty has been obtaining old, run-down buildings in Ely, and after extensive renovating and updating, will lease and manage the properties.
“We have a long-term horizon for getting a return on our investment,” Ott said. “We are committed to doing real quality work that will last.”
To put into words his love of the Ely area, Ott described the community as having “a really strong sense of place.” He described the character, culture, social opportunities, and unique history of Ely.
“How many places are there that you can drive to the gas station in the middle of February and meet a guy with eight sled dogs in the back of his pickup?” he asked. “That’s what I mean by a sense of place.”
The sense of history in Ely is also valued by Alley A Realty.
“Ely is a frontier town. They found iron, did a lot of logging, has tourism and so many subtle features,” Ott said. “There is a lot to draw from when we are doing our projects.”
Alley A Realty has worked on numerous projects over the past several years, including Insula Restaurant, Northern Grounds, Ely Historic State Theater, Potluck Kitchen store, Crapola, Healthy Families Chiropractic, Ely Folk School, Heavy Metal Sports and Catz Billiards, the Salerno building, the AFU building which is home to Range Mental Health and Ely Community Resource, and the former Pizza Hut restaurant that will soon transition from a former Tex/Mex eatery to Domino’s Pizza.
Alley A Realty even developed a downtown pocket park, or green space on Chapman Street. “It would be great if we could get an old Forest Service seaplane in this area to anchor a playground space for children,” he said. “We definitely want to add some more color and character to this space.”
The State Theater and adjacent Salerno building are one of the more visible development projects in town. Work continues on the facility. Plans for a café are in the works and a basement lounge has been talked about. A new Airbnb recently opened above the theater, according to Ott.
Other Ely buildings, complete with dreams, plans and wishes, remain in Ott’s portfolio, including the former Tanner Hospital, the former Wilderness Outfitters or train depot building, the Portage Bar and the Jachich building on Sheridan Street, the Old Ford Garage, and the Pastika Building on Chapman Street.
Plans are in the works for Alley A Realty to begin a renovation project on the former Jachich building, right next door to the old Portage Bar on Sheridan Street, according to Ott. “This used to be a very popular spot, according to old Elyites, for veterans returning from World War II,” he said. “What we like about this building is that renovation would not be a huge undertaking. It is about 1,000 square feet. It contains some neat finishes with old metal walls and ceiling. There is a hardwood floor that is worth refinishing. We believe there is a market in town for more small retail shops. It would be nice to have a store front up and running in Ely.”
The Tuesday Group audience shared ideas with Ott on what the community needs. Suggestions included women’s clothing stores, a shoe store, and indoor pickleball courts.
All agreed that additional workforce and seasonal housing is needed.
“That is more apparent this summer,” Ott said. “Some buildings on Sheridan Street could be used, but sometimes there is extensive cost in retrofitting with needed sprinkler systems, etc. The cost could get high.” He noted that the Tanner Hospital building could house many housing units.
Additional suggestions for more businesses in Ely from the Tuesday Group participants included a Mexican restaurant, antique stores, a brewery/distillery, a café and more restaurants, an office supply and copy shop with creative workshop space, nail salon, and other ideas.
Ott revealed that the former JD Mills building, next to the State Theater, was just purchased by the Shulze Excavating Co. family.
“They plan to put in an antique store, and are also adding a realty office in there,” Ott said.
More art studios and maker spaces will soon be part of the second floor of the Salerno building, according to Ott. An industrial kitchen rental space was also listed as an improvement for the Ely community.
Ott introduced the idea of developing the old Ford garage area on Conan Street into a one-level condo area that could include green space or a commons area.
As the Crapola business expands into Brain Storm Bakery with plans to open soon in the former Plum Bun Bakery building, Ott said another organization is planning to use the vacated space in the former James Drug building, but he was not ready to reveal any identity.
“There is a lot going on in Ely,” Ott concluded. “The hospital here is still planning for expansion. The school district is building. The Boathouse Brewpub is building a second-floor expansion. Look around and you see so many people fixing their houses and businesses are looking to move here.” He praised the city of Ely as being a great partner and supporter for all the economic development taking place.


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