Upscale housing for seniors planned in West DuluthAfter years of research, planning and preparation, local businessman and developer Charlie Bell is ready to move forward with his plans to build Park Place, the first upscale independent living development for seniors west of downtown.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
For years, people in Duluth’s western neighborhoods have said they wanted it.
Surveys have shown the need.
And now Charlie Bell is doing something about it.
After years of research, planning and preparation, the local businessman and developer is ready to move forward with his plans to build Park Place, the first upscale independent living development for seniors west of downtown.
The proposed $9 million, 32-unit complex would be built on undeveloped city-owned land just south of Grand Avenue and west of Elinor Street, within walking distance of the West Duluth business district. Its market-rate units would be geared to local seniors older than 60 who want secure, quality one- or two-bedroom apartments and who want to live in western Duluth.
“It won’t be extravagant, but very comfortable and very well built,” said Bell, who also built the Spirit Valley Assisted Living facilities in West Duluth.
While he had envisioned Park Place as a senior cooperative in which residents own shares, he let prospective participants attending a meeting Saturday decide whether it will be rental, condominiums or a cooperative.
The majority preferred a senior cooperative which will cost $60,000 per share in the co-op plus a monthly fee of $1,150 to $1,350. The rental option would have had monthly rents of about $1,900, while condominiums would have cost $265,000 and $285,000 for one- and two-bedroom units.
“There’s a huge need for the project,” said Kris Ridgewell,
executive director of West Duluth Community Development Inc. “A lot of people have to move up to Hermantown because a lot of independent senior living is in Hermantown, and there isn’t any in West Duluth.”
The project has Duluth Mayor Don Ness’ support.
“I’m excited about Charlie’s new project,” he said. “It’s the right vision, and it’s great for West Duluth. If we are going to reach our goal of 90,000 residents by 2020, we will need to do a better job of making Duluth a great place to retire. Housing options that meet the specific needs of seniors is the most important factor.”
Ness said Bell — whom Ness defeated for mayor in the 2007 general election — has been on the front lines of expanding housing options in Duluth and thinks Park Place could be Bell’s best project to date.
On Saturday, Bell and his staff unveiled the project to about 75 seniors gathered at Faith Haven senior highrise in West Duluth.
“It’s very good,” Mark Bullyan said of the development. “We need
this in West Duluth, and I’m born and raised in Duluth.”
Bullyan, 85, and his wife are interested in moving to Park Place. They have owned their home since 1980 but the mowing and other work around the house is getting to be difficult, he said.
Barbara Mathson, 70, will look into the plan further.
“I think it’s a good, good project,” she said. “It would be good for West Duluth and our community. I am personally interested. Perhaps not now, but in two or three years. I’ve lived in this community all my life and want to stay here.”
But some felt it was too expensive.
“The project is great, but not for low-income seniors,” said Claudia Woollweever, 72, who lives at Faith Haven, which has government-subsidized apartments. “It would be something I would never be able to afford unless I win the lottery.”
Before the project can move forward, however, Bell needs commitments for at least 20 of the 32 units. Commitments involve signed applications and $5,000 down. The deposits will be refunded if the project doesn’t get built, Bell said. But he’s confident he’ll have the funding in place in six months so construction — which could take a year — can begin next spring.
The project designs by DSGW Architects show a spacious, aesthetically pleasing two-story complex in a slight V-shape, landscaped with trees, pathways and other greenery. At 37,000 square feet, it will offer amenities similar to those offered at independent living complexes elsewhere in the city: a community room with kitchen for entertaining, an exercise area, library, computer room, private balcony and patios, underground parking and health-care assistance. A small volunteer-staffed pub with a TV for watching sports and an ice cream parlor for residents also is possible.
“It’ll be so much fun,” Bell said.
He initially had considered calling the complex Memorial Park Place because Evergreen Memorial Drive starts there. but discovered there already was a Memorial Park apartment complex. So he eliminated “memorial” from the name and made it Park Place. Then he realized the Monopoly connection, which led to Monopoly-inspired names for planned roads, pathways and other features on the 3½-acre site.
So site plans now have New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania avenues, Marvin Gardens, Short Line, even a Boardwalk. And if Park Place is successful, an adjoining 25-unit assisted living complex named St. Charles Place could be built.
Although Bell’s investment in the project is substantial, he’s not doing it alone. He is forging public and community partnerships, which he says are key today.
“Not a lot of things are happening now,” he said. “We have to be more creative today to stand up to financial regulations and challenges.”
Plans call for the city to transfer the land to the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority so a tax increment financingdistrict can be established to help finance needed roads and utilities. HRA would then transfer the land to Bell for the project.
“The HRA is the vehicle for us to be able to obtain the land,” Bell said. “They’re an integral part of the equation.”
Funding assistance also would be sought from the Duluth Economic Development Authority for site development, permit and other fees, Bell said.
Local Initiatives Support Corporation also is involved, helping the project get low-interest loans and guide it through its many phases. The West Duluth Community Development Agency, formerly known as Spirit Valley Citizens’ Neighborhood Development Association, is helping with the land acquisition and setting up neighborhood meetings.
“That way the neighborhood knows what’s going on, because this is going to be huge for our neighborhood,” Ridgewell said.
Besides giving seniors shifting to apartment or condominium living a way to stay in the neighborhood, the project will become part of the Ramsey Village neighborhood revitalization effort, she said. The traditional neighborhood district was established about 12 years ago in West Duluth, in an eight-block area around Ramsey Street.
It features close-knit, high-end townhouses and traditional houses with old-fashioned front porches to encourage community interaction, all within easy walking distance to neighborhood stores.