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Duluth's redevelopment efforts draw recognition

Heidi Timm-Bijold, business resources manager for Duluth, receives a statewide honor Thursday in recognition of her successful efforts to put abandoned industrial sites that are often contaminated back to productive use in Duluth, including the site of the former Lafarge cement terminal behind her, where an upscale hotel is being built. Steve Kuchera /

In Duluth's circle of property developers, Heidi Timm-Bijold is known by an unusual but fitting nickname, according to Sandy Hoff, one of the investors in a new $29.1 million waterfront hotel now rising from the site of the former Lafarge Cement Terminal.

"We call her the dirty dirt girl," he said.

Thursday, Timm-Bijold will be honored in St. Paul with the Mac Hyde Award in statewide recognition of her efforts to help redevelop Duluth's urban landscape in her role as the city's business resources manager.

Before Hoff and his partners could begin building their new hotel on a former industrial site, it required more than $1.5 million worth of remediation work. Hoff said that cost would have been difficult if not impossible to absorb had he and his team been left to their own devices.

"That's where Heidi is a rock star," Hoff said. "She knows where to turn for funding. She knows all the sources, and she's so respected at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The relationships she has built over time gave us direct access to help that would have taken us much longer to obtain. And without her, it's very possible we would never have gotten to where we are today."

Alex Giuliani is one of Hoff's partners in the hotel project and also worked closely with Timm-Bijold to redevelop the Clyde Iron property in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"I think we in Duluth have a treasure in Heidi. I don't think anyone has more knowledge about how to do brownfield redevelopment than she does." Giuliani said.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness was out of town Wednesday but issued a statement calling the award Timm-Bijold will receive a well-deserved recognition and calling her "one of the finest public servants I have worked with."

During her 18 years of employment by the city, Timm-Bijold has assisted with a litany of projects

"I would say redevelopment is 80 percent of my work. And redevelopment, just by definition of the conditions within our city, is going to involve contamination cleanup or other redevelopment challenges," she said, noting the industrial history of Duluth.

Timm-Bijold said she believes the city and the Duluth Economic Development Authority have done a good job of telling developers: "Listen. This is the type of property we have. We are a Great Lakes legacy community, and we are a fully built city. So we've got to provide leadership."

Timm-Bijold said successful redevelopment usually requires a team effort.

"It's gratifying work because of the wide cast of characters that need to come together to tackle any project," she said.

Timm Bijold pointed to the industrial park now taking shape on the former Atlas Cement plant site as an example.

"This work gets done because of fostering professional relationships that leverage resources and a desire to cooperate and get things done. You see that happening very much at the Atlas site, where we have the Environmental Protection Agency committed, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development committed, and a private company, like Ikonics, committed."

While surprises can and do arise in redevelopment projects, Timm-Bijold said Duluth is well equipped to meet such challenges.

"It is true that until you are in the ground, you won't know exactly what you'll find. But we have access to so many good scientists and engineers who are able to move a developer in the right direction," she said.

Timm-Bijold said she detects a growing sense of confidence.

"I think we've done enough brownfield redevelopment in the community that people are increasingly saying: Yes, I guess it can be done," she said.

Timm-Bijold views the reuse of underutilized property as vital to Duluth's health.

"I think the results of doing infill projects and being in the heart of the city is that the experience and the end product is more rich. It's not sprawl. It's creating and reinventing prosperity in existing neighborhoods," she said.

Timm Bijold contends that providing assistance to developers willing to take on challenging sites is a wise investment of public dollars

"Redevelopment obviously brings outputs that include an increased tax base, places for people to work and sometimes places to live," she said.