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Two tenants lined up for former Lincoln Park School in Duluth

The Duluth Boys and Girls Club has signed a letter with Sherman Associates of Minneapolis to remain in the old Lincoln Park School. Community Action Duluth recently signed a similar letter to take residence in the building, which is owned by Sherman Associates. (Steve Kuchera / / 2
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A Duluth nonprofit agency has signed a letter of intent to take up residence in the old Lincoln Park School.

Angie Miller, executive director of Community Action Duluth, said the nonprofit's board approved signing the letter of intent with building owner Sherman Associates this month. The agency would move to the old school at the end of November, when its lease at 19 N. 21st Ave. W. in Lincoln Park expires.

Community Action Duluth would join the Duluth Boys and Girls Club as building tenants. The latter, which serves about 600 neighborhood children, occupies 22,000 square feet of the complex. The club already is in the building and its board has signed a letter of intent to remain, said Kathy Marinac, Duluth-based commercial real estate manager for Sherman Associates of Minneapolis.

There also are tentative plans for nonprofit early childhood programming to be located in the building.

"We're hoping it will be a holistic family center serving the needs of residents," said Pamela Kramer, executive director of the Duluth Local Initiatives Support Corp.

LISC is a national nonprofit organization that works locally with community partners to revitalize neighborhoods. It has identified Lincoln Park as a key neighborhood and reuse of the old school as a priority, Kramer said. So LISC has worked closely with Sherman Associates since the developer purchased the property last year.

Community Action Duluth will be a natural partner with the Boys and Girls Club, Miller said.

"It'll be awesome," Miller said. "We work with parents of young children. The Boys and Girls Club works with school-age children."

The agency has been happy at its present location, Miller said, but they've had to rent space from a church for large meetings.

Community Action Duluth will have 7,800 square feet for its exclusive use, Marinac said. That's actually slightly less than it has now. But it will share 7,500 square feet of the kitchen and cafeteria with other potential nonprofits. Miller said that will be sufficient for meetings and special events and the Seeds for Success program, which focuses on making locally grown produce available to the community.

The move is made possible through a $50,000 grant via LISC, Miller said. The agency will need fresh office furniture for the new location and is hoping for donations from businesses that might be updating their offices, she said.

The old Lincoln Park School, which was built in 1888-89 and saw seven additions, closed after the 2010-11 school year. It was replaced by the new Piedmont Elementary School. Although the school system originally asked $610,000 for the building, Sherman Associates purchased it last year for $1. The School Board agreed to the garage-sale price because the building needed extensive renovation and because the developer planned to work with nonprofits.

Sherman Associates plans to spend about $8 million on the building, Marinac said, with a mix of affordable housing and space for up to four nonprofits. The latter are being developed first, she said, with 50 housing units "about two years out. It just takes all of that time to put the different sources of funding together."

The housing will be for all age groups, including families with children and senior citizens, Marinac said.

The developer plans to demolish the building that houses a long-abandoned swimming pool, she said, and bring the playground closer to the building. The parking lot on the north side of the building will be reworked. The removal of the pool building will bring the complex's size to 160,000 square feet.

The planned development will go a long way toward filling a void that was left when the school closed, Kramer said.

"Even though there's a beautiful new school building that was developed for Lincoln Park children up in Piedmont, what happens for families nearby?" she asked. "How do you make sure that some of the after-school programming and the meals and other programs are available to Lincoln Park residents, especially those without cars?"

The At Home in Duluth collaborative of 25 nonprofit and governmental agencies working to revitalize five urban neighborhoods had worked with Lincoln Park residents to put together a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan in 2007. That was before the school system announced plans to close the school. An updated version of the plan was completed in May 2012, and it identified reuse of the school as one of its priorities.

The report confirms that Lincoln Park is still one of the more economically challenged neighborhoods in the city. It points out the neighborhood's average unemployment rate in 2005-09 was 11.1 percent, compared with 5.2 percent for the city as a whole. Moreover, 52 percent of Lincoln Park households had an annual income of $25,000 or less, compared with 32 percent for Duluth as a whole.