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Duluth projects exceed $100 million
PHOTO: Art courtesy of the DTA. This drawing represents how the new multi-modal transportation center might look when construction of the downtown Duluth facility is completed.
New projects valued at approximately $100 million are planned for downtown Duluth during coming months, with much of this year’s work occurring in design and engineering and a smaller amount in structural assembly.
The construction rebound will be evident citywide, with the Bluestone residential-commercial project booked in the UMD neighborhood (see related story page A10), two multi-unit residential developments in West Duluth, the continuation of the Dick’s Sporting Goods project at Miller Hill Mall and completion of the Duluth International Airport terminal project, which this year includes a $7 million parking ramp and $3 million in runway apron improvements.
“Duluth’s economy is on the move,” said Chris Eng, the city’s director of business and economic development, who rattled off a long list of projects that suggest commercial construction is bouncing back strongly following several years of recession and tight money.
The costliest project will be the $80 million 425 West office/retail building and parking lot being developed by AtWater Group LLC, with Maurices to be the primary tenant. It will replace the former KDLH-TV building, which is now empty.
“The goal is to begin demolition by October with footings to follow by December,” Eng said. Erection of the 15-story skyscraper will follow for approximately two years. Contractors are yet to be named.
Remodeling of the NorShor Theater, which currently is in the planning/engineering stage with TKDA, will start early in the fall. The $20 million project is in Duluth’s eastern downtown district, where several historic buildings already have been restored.
Another significant project, the Multimodal Transportation Center, is viewed by many as the hub where old and new downtown developments come together. The $26 million structure, to be constructed on Michigan Street between Second and Third avenues west, will link downtown with Canal Park through a revitalized Northwest Passage while also serving as the place where people transfer among various modes of ground transportation.
“This has been in our heart and soul for a long time,” said Bill Bennett, president of LHB, which is working with Mortenson Construction on the design-build project.
The seed was planted about six years ago when then-Congressman Jim Oberstar requested a list of city transportation priorities. Bennett served on the Greater Downtown Council’s transportation committee, which reviewed potential developments for presentation to Oberster, who chaired the powerful House Transportation Committee.
“The mantra was to enhance connectivity in the downtown. We were looking at how rail (the proposed Northern Lights Express) would come into downtown and how to get people around once they arrived at the rail station,” he explained.
The multi-modal center was given top priority and eventually received federal, state and local funding commitments. The Duluth Transit Authority was selected to guide project development and manage the center, which will serve the DTA plus a variety of other public and private transporters.
The center originally was viewed as being a $50 million project, given Oberstar’s Congressional clout and ability to secure federal funds. When he was defeated in 2010 by Chip Cravaack, it was scaled back, as Cravaack opposed earmarks. Still, it represents a significant investment. About 10 LHB employees will spend the next eight months assembling architectural and engineering features into a construction plan that achieves design and budgetary goals, Bennett said. Pilings could go into the ground by winter, said DTA Director of Administration Jim Heilig, with construction to follow throughout 2014.
“Part of the challenge is the number of stakeholders involved,” Bennett explained, including DTA patrons and others who may use the terminal, such as intercity bus riders, bike riders, pedestrians and, if the Northern Lights Express (NLX) is funded, train passengers.
Reconstruction of the Northwest Passage, a 38-year-old elevated pedestrian walkway that connects downtown to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) and Canal Park, is considered a key element of the plan. In a yet-to-be-determined manner, the lengthy indoor skywalk will be remodeled or entirely replaced to improve the impression it leaves on users, particularly visitors from outside of the area.
“When you drive into Duluth on Interstate 35, it probably doesn’t project the image it should,” said DECC Executive Director Dan Russell. Additionally, a growing number of visitors who stay in downtown hotels and walk to the DECC complain about bad odors in the aging walkway, he said, which are caused by its decaying roof.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that the Northwest Passage is part of the project,” Russell said, although scheduling construction work is a sensitive issue. Beyond linking the DECC to downtown hotels, restaurants and stores, the skywalk also connects 700 downtown workers to their cars in the DECC parking lot. Although the DTA plans to offer shuttle service while the passage is closed, it lacks the resources to provide similar service for large DECC performance patrons who hope to park downtown, Heilig said.
Four or more Northwest Passage plans will be considered before stakeholders decide how to proceed, he said.
Overall, the passage design should create a better image of the city, Bennett said.
“It really has passed its useful life. We might re-skin it or might tear it down and rebuild adjacent to it,” he said. To reduce down time, any replacement might be pre-constructed in modules that can be erected quickly, Heilig noted.
The first order of business, however, is to ensure the intermodal center is designed in a manner that meets budgetary restraints while still achieving its mission, said LHB project architect Aaron Kelly. That will be determined by September, when LHB and Mortenson unveil project details and their guaranteed maximum price.
When completed, the land and multi-modal center structure will be owned by INREIT, the North Dakota firm that currently owns the Wells Fargo Bank building and the parking ramp where the center is to be constructed. The DTA and city, however, will be given a perpetual easement, said INREIT President Bradley J. Swenson. As part of the deal, Wells Fargo will have a drive-through and parking access on the center’s skywalk level. Other private tenants, such as Jefferson Lines, will pay the DTA for their office and parking space.
Although planning continues for the potential NLX rail line, Bennett said it’s difficult to include the uncertain development in the current plan.
“It would be nice to have it all nailed down so we could incorporate it into the design. That’s a discussion yet to be held – exactly how to potentially accommodate the NLX in the future,” he said. The risk, he noted, is that negative public reaction that might arise if a large amount of tax money is invested into an element of the project that eventually isn’t developed.
The center’s design elements will include features that make it compatible with those evident in the adjacent downtown historic district, Bennett said.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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