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Pier B resort plan inches closer to development
PHOTO: Sandy Hoff
A proposed hospitality venture near Bayfront Festival Park has inched closer to construction but stiff faces challenges, a partner in the Pier B project said Tuesday.
“The financing package is very close” but not quite complete, Sandy Hoff said at a Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored lunch presentation. “The financing piece has been a real challenge. That piece has taken way longer than we ever imagined.”
The development, “The Silos of Pier B – A Resort Hotel,” also needs environmental approvals from state and federal regulators plus municipal construction permits. A year ago, it was provided a $999,000 state grant to clean up contaminants including benzopyrene, diesel organics and concrete dust
“We have a lot of folks to keep happy. This isn’t your typical development project,” said Hoff, who also is a principal and executive at F.I Salter Co., Computer Renaissance Duluth, Lake Superior Helicopters and the Timber Trails residential development.
Proposed is a 140-room, eight-story hotel in which the great majority of rooms face the Aerial Bridge. Complementing the hotel will be a restaurant offering an unobstructed Aerial Bridge view. Pier B also will feature a banquet center and 10,000-square-foot event center offering tennis and basketball courts that can be modified for specific gatherings, a boat launch, and berths where guests can dock their vessels. If approvals are obtained, all will be constructed on the seven acres of land that constitute Pier B, which is situated adjacent to Bayfront Festival Park. Total costs are expected to exceed $30 million.
A key feature of the pier is the massive storage silo formerly used by the LaFarge, an international concrete company. Earlier plans called for converting that structure into a hotel, but the costs would be prohibitive, Hoff said.
He and development partner Alex Giuliani hope to create a new attraction, not simply complete with existing hoteliers, Hoff explained. At the same time, he said, their new property will benefit from and complement the bustling activity that occurs in Canal Park, the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center and Great Lakes Aquarium. To ensure customers have quick access to existing attractions, developers propose to construct a bridge over Slip 2, which separates Pier B from Bayfront Festival Park.
“Connectivity … is absolutely critical. It is our lifeblood to the success that’s already happening on the waterfront,” Hoff said. In addition to a bridge, developers are reviewing options including a rail tram and water taxi.
A deteriorating retaining wall is one of the significant challenges developers have faced. Early in 2012, the state contributed $968,000 to repair crumbling sea walls, improve utilities and remove old debris that popped up through the soil.
“We plan to cut back 12 feet to the interior wall, then lower the shore so it’s just one foot above the water,” Hoff said, creating an environment similar to the San Antonio River Walk. “We’re trying to make this more intimate with the waterfront.”
Contractors that have assisted with the project so far include DSGW Architects, Johnson-Wilson Constructors and Barr Engineering.
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