More on the Ironworld revival

Here’s an update on yesterday’s Iron Range Resources Board decision to help reopen the former Ironworld research center and museum in Chisholm. Brush up with this story from the Duluth News Tribune. As I posted last night the IRR has allocated $1 million from the mining tax revenue paid in lieu of local property taxes to the nonprofit that runs the formerly state-run Ironworld. I point that out because many make the mistaken assumption that this comes straight out of the general fund. It doesn’t. This is a little like all the cities of the Iron Range pooling their money to have a large cultural and historical center that they all share. In fact, that’s exactly what this is.

I spoke to Rich Puhek, chair of the nonprofit Ironworld Development Corporation, last night and there remain some details to be hashed out by the board. Notably, they need to figure out exactly who among the approximately 50 laid-off staffers they can call back to work based on what the budget allows and who is still available. The IDC needs to set reopening dates for the research center,which will open first, and then the museum, which needs some work in the exhibit area before it’s ready. Sometime in May looks likely.

Also on the “to figure out” list is the infamous name debate. One of the reasons last year’s economic downturn and the effects of the Highway 169 repair project were magnified into a catastrophe for Ironworld was the name change undertaken right before the collapse. I suppose I’m going to have to type the name again, huh? Minnesota Discovery Center. Lots of people, including me, were somewhat mystified by that choice. That, coupled with other management problems and an overly ambitions fundraising goal, led us here. OK, so Ironworld has to decide what to call itself when it has no money to change what it is currently called. Not a lot of great options there, so good luck IDC board. Everyone knows that people will just keep calling it Ironworld so the question is to what degree do you attempt to fight this. My friend Rep. Tom Anzelc authored a bill that suggested new names for Ironworld, the research library and, for a rather dramatic piece of flair, the Douglas J. Johnson Economic Development fund (Iron Range Heritage Center, Perpich Archives and Mesabi Miner’s Memorial Fund, respectively). The Mesabi Daily News editorial page nearly lost its stuff over this, a subject for another private discussion when you buy me a drink, reader. Tom’s bill is hung up anyway and really, it’s the board will have to decide.

Finally, and fundamentally, Ironworld’s board has to figure out what it is and what it isn’t. Many in the historical and cultural studies corners of the Range thought that the previous management was overreaching and rather schizophrenic in its vision for the facility. With less money the board’s job just got harder and even more important. My understanding is that there is a leading contender for a new CEO, and one hopes that the new person is able to right these wrongs.

Somewhere in all this there lies a metaphor about Range institutions and challenges. When I figure out how to express that properly I’ll revisit this topic. As it is, I think this might end up being my vlog for my next contribution to MinnEcon.

UPDATE: Text of a press release from the Minnesota Discovery Center:


Chisholm, MN—The Minnesota Discovery Center soon will resume sharing the cultural heritage of the Iron Range with school groups, tourists and other visitors. The Center plans on re-opening to the public by Memorial Day weekend.

“The Minnesota Discovery Center is excited to resume its mission of creating exciting and educational experiences for our guests as we share the unique history and cultural heritage of the Iron Range,” said Rich Puhek, chair of the center’s board of directors. “We still have plenty of work to do to prepare for reopening, but we have a solid plan for success.”

The Research Center portion will open simultaneously, or slightly before, the rest of the museum.

Minnesota Discovery Center, formerly known as Ironworld Discovery Center, closed temporarily in mid-November. The Center will re-open under a new business plan developed jointly with Iron Range Resources.

The business plan provides a blueprint for a sustainable operation that will fulfill the Center’s mission of preserving and interpreting Iron Range history and culture while meeting financial targets. The plan includes a step-by-step plan for implementing recommendations of a risk management report on ways to strengthen internal controls.

Minnesota Discovery Center will be increasing its fundraising activities, developing new exhibits and reconstituting its board as it implements the plan.

“The Minnesota Discovery Center has a bright future,” Puhek said. “We have an excellent facility, informative exhibits and a strong blueprint for moving forward.”

The Iron Range Resources Board approved investing $1 million annually to help the Center achieve its mission to preserve and interpret Iron Range history.

“We are grateful for the support of Iron Range Resources staff and board members,” Puhek said. “The agency is an important partner in the long-term success of the Minnesota Discovery Center, and we appreciate their investment in our future.”


  1. Anonymous says

    A great example of the narrow mindedness of Rangers.

    Discussing and arguing over letter jackets and our representative proposing bills on what to call a museum…wow.

    And we wonder why fortune 500 companies aren’t clammering to locate here..

  2. Rachel Brandt says

    I would like to find a GNR show…live from Ironworld 🙂

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