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Plans in motion for new strip mall across from Miller Hill Mall

Developers plan to build Platinum Plaza, a 24,200 square-foot retail center, on these parcels across from Miller Hill Mall. Restaurants, stores, a salon/spa, clinic and offices are among the possible tenants. (Steve Kuchera / / 3
A preliminary rendering for Platinum Plaza shows the retail complex from the perspective of Miller Trunk Highway. Store signage is just to show what could go in there. At the upper far right corner is the Days Inn Duluth motel next door. (Courtesy Platinum Properties)2 / 3
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Local developer Stevie Paulson and his partners have big plans for the brushy hillside along Miller Trunk Highway across from Miller Hill Mall.

They plan to build Platinum Plaza, a $5.5 million, 24,200-square-foot retail center on the site after they get four tenants signed on, and Paulson says they’re close.

They have letters of intent from three businesses whose leases are being finalized, he said. He expects to have those signed by early May. And talks are underway with a fourth prospective tenant.

“The goal is to start as soon as the weather breaks and the leases are in place,” Paulson said.

Two houses and a small office on the three-acre site at 1602-1618 Maple Grove Road will be removed to make way for the development.

But first, the plan must go before the Duluth Planning Commission for review on April 30. With the commission’s expected approval, the project can move forward and the needed permits sought.

Until leases are signed, however, Paulson isn’t revealing who the first tenants are. But he said they include a retail store, restaurant, spa and offices. Three are new to Duluth and one is a relocation, he said.

The four businesses will take up almost 45 percent, or 10,000 square feet, of the planned center that will be bordered by Maple Grove Road to the north and Miller Trunk Highway to the south, he said. Six to 10 more businesses could follow to fill the remaining space.

The two-building complex will be positioned in an L-shape, similar to the new Hansen Center across Miller Trunk Highway that houses four stores including Panera Bread and a Verizon Wireless Smart Store.

Targeted summer start

Paulson is confident construction of Platinum Plaza will be underway this summer, even though the final design depends on tenant needs and a general contractor hasn’t been chosen.

If it does, the first stores could open in early 2015.

The preliminary design shows building features — windows, columns, parapet walls and stone and brick accents — that are welcomed by the city.

“We require building design standards,” explained Jenn Reed Moses, a city planner who worked with the developers. “They are minimal design standards, but we do ask them to have windows and changes in building façade so it doesn’t just have that big boxy appearance.”

The project also fits in with the city’s future plans for the Maple Grove corridor.

The site’s current mixed use-commercial zoning allows for the project. And the city’s Central Entrance-Miller Hill Small Area Plan approved in 2009 calls for that south side of Maple Grove Road, where Platinum Plaza is to be built, to shift from neighborhood-mixed use to large-scale commercial in the future.

“They wanted the site to be more heavily commercial,” Moses said.

Challenging site

While the Platinum Plaza site will be part of the busy mall shopping area, building it has its challenges. It will sit on top of a hillside along 450 feet of frontage with no direct access from Miller Trunk Highway.

To deal with the hill, Paulson says they will lower the hilltop down a bit and tip it forward so it is better seen from Miller Trunk Highway.

Although the parking lot with nearly 100 spaces will overlook the highway, access will be from Maple Grove Road, creating a roundabout access route for those traveling on Miller Trunk Highway. Maple Grove Road used to connect with Miller Trunk Highway but access was cut off and the road was reconfigured by the Minnesota Department of Transportation a few years ago to relieve congestion and traffic delays at the intersection.

Platinum Plaza developers had hoped to reinstall a short road near the site, to connect the development to Miller Trunk Highway, said Chris Eng, the city’s director of business and economic development.

The city was supportive, as long as MnDOT was agreeable and the developer paying for the road, Eng said.

“That would open up the whole Maple Grove corridor to additional commercial development,” he said. “So we were pretty excited about the opportunity to open that up.”

A house and garage are on the parcel needed for the access road to be built.

“MnDOT was willing to explore it,” Eng said. “What happened is (the developers) didn’t get that specific parcel. So it’s not being planned for this particular development and access will be from Maple Grove Road.”

Despite access from Maple Grove Road, Platinum Plaza’s address will be 1661 Miller Trunk Highway.

Past projects

Not getting that road access doesn’t deter Paulson, who said he believes people will get used to taking other routes to the retail center.

“Other things are starting to fill in there,” he said of that section of Maple Grove Road. “La Quinta Inns and Suites will be built up there this summer. The whole area is going to explode.”

The owner of the three-acre site — Earl Richards — is not only on board, he has partnered with Platinum Properties on the project.

It’s not the first strip mall for Paulson and Joe Peterson, his partner in Platinum Properties. In the past decade, they also built:

  • Hermantown Square at Miller Trunk Highway and Lavaque Road in Hermantown, which includes Do North Pizzeria, McKenzie’s Bar & Grill and the Hermantown Chamber of Commerce.
  • Maple Square at 2510 Maple Grove Road, which includes Nevada Bob’s Golf, Recline ’n Sleep, Country Financial and Eyemart.
  • Sugar Maple Crossing on Miller Trunk Highway and Sugar Maple Drive in Hermantown, which houses Crossfit Duluth, Fastenal and a Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, scheduled to open soon.

They also purchased the building at 4865 Miller Trunk Highway in Hermantown that houses Anytime Fitness.

While Platinum Plaza is their biggest project to date, Sugar Maple Crossing — which has two more planned phases — will be bigger when done, Paulson said.