Tanner Ott and his father John have made a career rehabbing historic buildings. They do it for love and for money, and they believe both can be found now in Ely.
The Otts, who’ve summered here for more than 25 years, have placed a big bet on downtown. Their family’s Missouri-based firm now owns eight long-vacant buildings, including the historic State Theater, which they began renovating in 2014. The marquee came alive Saturday for the first time in 20 years.
They hope to make the 300-seat venue a space for movies, live music, business conferences, weddings, and other events. By the time they’re done, the overhaul may cost $1.5 million — serious money in a town that not long ago appeared to be on the skids. But the Otts are sold on Ely.
It’s “really a special place, a magical place,” said John Ott. “For us to play a small part in everything that goes on here gives us a lot of satisfaction.” The Otts’ investment, coupled with several new business startups and expansions, has made many locals bullish on Ely. A town that once lived and died on mining’s boom-and-bust cycles appears to be on the upswing.
Downtown outfitters, coffee shops and restaurants are bustling with summer tourists here for the beauty and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Local leaders say the new investment will help the city build an economic core that’s more than tourism, although not everyone buys it.
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