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High-end housing planned for former Nokomis site on the North Shore

Architect David Salmela is with a model of Kiviranta, a community of eight high-end homes he designed that will be built next year on land where the Shorecrest motel and cabins once stood along the North Shore. It will include the former Nokomis restaurant building and won’t encroach on the surrounding woods. (Bob King / / 9
Kiviranta homes will feature clean modern lines, open living spaces that combine rooms and expansive windows to maximize the views. (Rendering courtesy of the Lewis Group LLC)2 / 9
Sandy Lewis (left) and his wife, Rondi Erickson, are the developers behind the planned Kiviranta housing community at the former Nokomis site on the North Shore. Besides the construction of six new homes, the former restaurant building will be converted into two residential units. The couple is taking one of them, which includes this second floor space they are standing in with its close-up view of Lake Superior. It is where they had their offices until recently. (Steve Kuchera / / 9
The building that formerly housed the Nokomis Restaurant & Bar on Scenic Highway 61, about 10 miles northeast of Duluth, will be converted into two housing units as part of the Kiviranta housing development. The building predates today’s requirements for greater setbacks from the road. (Steve Kuchera / / 9
The last remaining cabins that were part of the Shorecrest resort along Scenic Highway 61 were razed last month. The property owners, who ran the Nokomis restaurant at the site from 2005 to 2012, had kept the cabins for possible use by seasonal help. (Steve Kuchera / / 9
The Kiviranta residential community will start with the former Nokomis building at 5593 North Shore Drive and extend north away from the lake on land where the Shorecrest resort buildings once stood. The positioning will allow the units to have lake views to both the east and west. (Rendering courtesy of the Lewis Group LLC)6 / 9
A rendering of the Kiviranta housing community planned for the former Nokomis restaurant site along Scenic Highway 61 shows a view looking north with garages on the left and the row of homes on the right. (Rendering courtesy of the Lewis Group LLC)7 / 9
The houses closest and farthest from the lake will include top floor loft offices with panoramic views. (Rendering courtesy of the Lewis Group LLC)8 / 9
A view of the planned Kiviranta community looking toward the lake shows the row of townhouse-like units on the left and the garages across from them. (Courtesy of the Lewis Group LLC) 9 / 9

It didn’t take long for award-winning Duluth architect David Salmela to agree to design a residential community on the old Nokomis restaurant site on Lake Superior’s North Shore.

The location was beautiful. The owners wanted to create a lasting legacy, fitting of the site. And the project would give the area’s most celebrated architect the opportunity to design a unique lifestyle community, inspired by the area’s Scandinavian roots and appropriate to the setting.

Moreover, the project could be built on land 10 miles northeast of Duluth where the old Shorecrest resort — with a motel, cabins, restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool — had stood for decades.

“Rather than disturb more land to build more things, use that land, reclaim it with minimal impact on new land,” Salmela said. “That was the logic behind it.”

The result, when it’s built in 2016, will be an eight-home community like none other on the North Shore. Salmela described the row of flat-roofed structures as modern northern Minnesota buildings designed with a Scandinavian approach.

“It is a very pragmatic, simple approach; everything has a reason,” he said.

Behind the $8 million project are the owners of the former Nokomis restaurant — Rondi Erickson, 68, and her husband, Sandy Lewis, 91. Operating as the Lewis Group, they own the 33-acre site that includes the Nokomis building and adjacent woods. The couple have decades of business experience. Erickson was CEO of Bay West Inc. and Apprise Technologies; Lewis was a longtime banker.

The community’s high-end homes will range in size from 1,223 to 2,415 square feet and start at $700,000. They’ll feature clean, simple lines, open living spaces and built-ins. They’ll have two or three bedrooms and detached garages, and some will have lofted office spaces. All will have floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights bringing in lots of natural light.

“With David’s buildings, it’s important that you catch the light from all directions,” Erickson said. “We wanted a style that was open to the woods and the lake, because that’s why you live there.”

The project, to be built by Kraus Anderson, is called Kiviranta — Finnish for “stone beach” — in honor of the Finnish heritage of the shore.

This isn’t the first housing community Salmela has designed. In the 1990s, he designed Jackson Meadow, a widely heralded 145-acre residential development at Marine on St. Croix, Minn. More recently, he designed a group of black houses on Duluth’s Observation Hill that includes his own home. Each project is different and relative to the site, he said.

“It’s really about how you experience the setting from the inside of the house,” he said. “That really is key. All were designed from the inside out.”

Enhancing the site

In 2005, Erickson and Lewis bought the nine-acre Shorecrest property at 5593 North Shore Drive, and two years later they bought the adjacent 24 acres of woods. The motel building and several of the cabins on the property were sold and moved elsewhere. They updated the former Shorecrest Supper Club building and opened the Nokomis Restaurant & Bar, with Lewis’ grandson as executive chef.

The Nokomis offered fine dining, developing a loyal following for its contemporary American cuisine, even receiving kudos from the Wall Street Journal. But in 2012, the couple closed the restaurant to retire.

While they never listed the property for sale, they put out feelers and were approached by several people with ideas for the property. Most wanted to open another restaurant there.

None of the ideas felt right to the couple.

“We felt we wanted something more for the site,” Erickson said. “It’s an extraordinary property, and it needed something extraordinary done to it.”

Said Lewis: “We couldn’t bear to just sell off the property and divide it up.”

All along they thought it would make a great residential site. And last year, they decided to develop it as residential themselves. Lewis’ daughter, who is an architect, recommended Salmela. So they approached him with their idea of converting the Nokomis building into a large home.

It was Salmela’s idea to create a community of homes on the former Shorecrest resort’s three acres.

“The land on the North Shore is so precious,” Salmela explained. “It could be great to let as many people as possible appreciate it without disturbing the land.”

The couple agreed.

January start

Work to convert the existing 1950s Nokomis building into two housing units is to begin in January. The nearly 6,000-square-foot building will be returned to its original cube shape and white color. Its second floor will be removed and rebuilt into loft office spaces with panoramic views.

Behind it, six new homes will be built in row, perpendicular to the shore. They will climb up the hill, abutting each other, each successive unit sitting 2 feet higher than the last.

“Each unit will have equal visibility so there isn’t a bad view in any of the spaces,” Salmela said.

He likened the line of townhouse-like homes that have sections jutting out from each side to a fallen tree in the woods, such as a jackpine, further connecting the development to the environment.

While the Nokomis building will be white, the new construction will be black stucco. Black disappears in nature and is less intrusive, Salmela explained.

The homes, which will be highly insulated, will have in-floor heating and triple-glazed windows and will be built to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design standards. Balconies will be on west side, large patios with fireplaces on the east side. Outdoor pass-throughs from front to back will increase the outdoor spaces, Salmela said.

Landscaping will emphasize native grasses, flowers and trees. Residents will share walkways, a hilltop pavilion and trails in 30 acres of nearby woods, which they will own.

A monthly association fee of $1,275 will cover utilities and pay for a full-time caretaker who will tend to the grounds and remove snow. Concierge services also will be available.

“We’re not scrimping on anything,” Erickson said. “Everything will be done to the best standards we can achieve. It’s been our goal to provide consistent high quality throughout.”

That includes slate floors, natural stone countertops, light wood accents inside, cedar accents outside and premium appliances.

That doesn’t come cheap, with units ranging from $700,000 to $1.3 million.

“It’s certainly more than the average cost,” Salmela said. “Because of the durability of the materials we’re using and the light we’re bringing in, the cost per square foot is higher. And all the appliances and fixtures are of the highest quality.”

While Kiviranta is being described as luxury housing, Salmela doesn’t think the term fits the design’s minimalist, pragmatic Scandinavian approach.

“Luxury is if you cover it with gold,” he said.

So who will live there?

First of all, people with the wherewithal to afford it. They could be retirees. People who love the lake and the outdoors with active lifestyles. People who want a second home on the North Shore. People who work out of their homes.

If some units are pre-sold by Edina Realty, construction of the new homes can start in the spring, Erickson said.

“We have some seriously interested prospects,” she said.

One unit — on the west side of the former Nokomis building — is spoken for. Until recently, Erickson and Lewis had an office on that section’s second floor where the view of Lake Superior is spectacular.

The couple are taking that unit for themselves. It’ll serve as the Kiviranta’s model unit, until all the other seven units are sold.

“We can’t give it up,” Erickson said of the space.