UMD ‘grand entrance’ could help Woodland developmentThe configuration of the retail and housing complex planned for the Woodland Middle School site has changed.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, for the Duluth News Tribune
The configuration of the retail and housing complex planned for the Woodland Middle School site has changed.
Developer Mark Lambert, who initially planned housing stacked on top of retail space, said Tuesday the two will probably be separated, with retail along Woodland Avenue and a four- or five-story residence behind it to start. He expects to finalize plans on the development — called Bluestone — in the next couple of weeks.
With the separation of retail and housing, “it might be a little easier to phase our development and build it in a way that ensures its success,” Lambert said.
Prospective retail tenants have concerns about the lack of an intersection or nearby entrance into the University of Minnesota Duluth. His proposed plans show a main entrance into UMD off of Woodland Avenue, right across from future retail and housing with its own corridor with lighting and landscaping.
“If that (UMD) connection never comes, we probably want to be a little careful how strongly retail-oriented we are because retailers might not be as interested being there,” Lambert said. However, “we’re still hopeful UMD will be giving us a new access road connecting to their campus.”
Lambert reached a purchase agreement with the Duluth school district in September to buy the 22-acre property in two phases, paying $1.5 million for each phase. He expects the first purchase to be in April. The entire development, which at first will include building one retail site and one for housing, could take four to six years to complete. Other housing and retail space would be added depending on demand.
UMD will begin work on a campus master plan this semester that will deal with a grand entrance, said Sue Banovetz, director of external affairs for the university.
“There is a desire by UMD to have a grand entrance,” she said. “Where that will be located is up in the air.”
For Lambert’s plan to work, UMD would have to relocate up to three athletic fields, Banovetz said.
“We’re excited about (Lambert’s) development and what it means for UMD and the community,” she said, “but the master plan has to play itself out first and the issue of the fields is important.”
Another unknown, Lambert said, is reuse of the school. He doesn’t want to tear it down, and has reached out to both the College of St. Scholastica and UMD.
St. Scholastica is “contemplating locating some of our graduate health science programs at the Woodland site,” said Bob Ashenmacher, spokesman for the college.
That would mean leasing space for its physical and occupational therapy and proposed physician assistant programs, he said.
UMD officials have toured Woodland, Banovetz said, but the idea of leasing space is still just “up for discussion.”
Lambert expects construction for a 300-bed building, called Bluestone Lofts, to begin in the fall, with a 12,000 square-foot retail space named the Shops at Bluestone following either in late fall or the following spring. No retail tenants have signed on yet.
Lambert has met with neighbors three times, he said, and has also met with the Congdon Park Elementary Parent Teacher Association to discuss concerns about the closeness of construction to the school, where Congdon students will be next year.
“We’re trying to be inclusive and address concerns,” he said.
Initial construction should be 200 feet from the student play area outside of the school, Lambert said. The school is expected to be empty in fall of 2013.
Mark Poirier, a neighbor of the school and a member of the city’s Higher Education Small Area Plan committee, said he didn’t know whether the changes would make a difference to neighbors.
“We’re very excited about the potential for mixed use and interesting retail in the neighborhood,” he said. “I know people are concerned about building heights. Maybe that will lower building heights. … It comes down to re-evaluating how the overall plan looks.”