Our view: Lose a little, gain a lot on UMD’s edgeThe former Woodland Middle School will be lost, torn down; but that will pale in comparison to what the University of Minnesota Duluth and the city as a whole stand to gain in return.
The former Woodland Middle School will be lost, torn down; but that will pale in comparison to what the University of Minnesota Duluth and the city as a whole stand to gain in return.
Developer Mark Lambert said at a chamber-sponsored luncheon Tuesday at the Kitchi Gammi Club that, “barring any last-minute changes,” the school won’t be renovated or reused but instead will be razed. As recently as a month ago he said in a News Tribune report that he was working with UMD and the College of St. Scholastica to reuse the school for educational purposes. But he indicated Tuesday those talks weren’t leading anywhere.
Rather than a loss, the school building’s pending demolition can be seen as an opening, Lambert said.
“It gives us an opportunity to really create a new palette,” he said as the featured speaker before a capacity crowd. “The cleaner the canvas you have sometimes the more exciting can be the brush strokes.”
If the construction and development happening along Woodland Avenue at the eastern edge of the UMD campus are brush strokes, as Lambert likens them, then a masterpiece just may be taking shape.
The coming-together BlueStone Commons development at the 24-acre Woodland school site promises to give our city the Dinkytown-style neighborhood students, campus leaders, city officials and others have been lusting after for decades. It also promises to finally give UMD the grand, unmistakable front entrance the school has been talking about nearly as long.
The private investment in Duluth could tally as high as $45 million over five years.
Phase one is under construction now with 99 upscale, loft-style apartments over underground parking for students, faculty or anyone else who wants to live in them. Called BlueStone Lofts, the apartments should be ready by August. Students and others already are gobbling them up, attracted by their promised quality and unbeatable views of Lake Superior and UMD’s Malosky Stadium.
In all, 250 residential units will be built, and 400,000 square feet of retail space will be created along busy Woodland Avenue. Retail construction starts in July, Lambert said, and will include a coffee shop, yogurt shop and more; a tavern-style restaurant should be open by spring.
Lambert, of Stillwater, Minn., is a developer of proven success. In Duluth, he filled a niche and satisfied a need for student housing at a time when the city was struggling mightily with campus pressures on traditional neighborhoods. His Campus Park development opened in 1997. He followed that with Boulder Ridge in 2005 and Summit Ridge in 2009, all along Rice Lake Road.
In addition to housing, he has brought investment and optimism to Duluth, the chamber’s David Ross said.
“I have really matured in Duluth since I started up here,” Lambert said. “We are working on a new vision for Duluth. … I think we’re on to something good.
“The city of Duluth is a terrific place to do business. There are a lot of people here who get it,” he said.