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Hermantown is humming with growth as new buildings go up

Northern Trends employees Ryan Uotinen (from left), Nick Soderlund, Brendon Quade and Josh Uotinen raise a section of wall at a construction site along Haines Road in Hermantown on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 5
Excavator operator Mike Sigman with Sinnott Blacktop empties a bucket of rocks onto an underground stormwater detention system at a construction site along Haines Road in Hermantown on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Eric Carlson of Sinnott Blacktop works on underground stormwater detention system being installed at a construction site along Haines Road in Hermantown on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 5
T10.04.2018 -- Steve Kuchera -- 100518.N.DNT.GrowthC4 -- A crane sits on the Hermantown where an Essentia Wellness Center is being built. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Northern Trends employee Josh Uotinen fastens two sections of wall at a construction site along Haines Road in Hermantown on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Hermantown has had a busy year.

Both public and private investments into the city are resulting in new businesses, community centers and places to hike.

"I said last year, '2018 is going to be a year when you look back and say a lot of stuff was done,'" said John Mulder, city administrator for Hermantown. "There's physical attributes done in 2018 that made the community a better place."

There may be plenty of concrete getting poured this year, but plans for some of the changes to the city have been in the works since 2012. Most notable is the Essentia Wellness Center, a $26 million endeavor.

This wellness-community center hybrid will host a variety of different activities. The "Wellness" part of the center will include a variety of clinical services like physical therapy, sports medicine and preventative care options. While Essentia Health has its name on the face of the building, most of the facility will be run by the YMCA.

Labeling it as a "true community center," Mulder said it will have rooms for pickleball, a locker room, a gym, a cafeteria and a child care center.

"Initially, the idea was we wanted to create a community center that would improve healthy outcomes," Mulder said. "Our county ranks low in health outcomes."

St. Louis County ranks 80 out of 87 in health outcomes in the state, according to a 2017 county health ranking report.

"We hope this will provide a healthier opportunity," said Mulder, "a place for a community to gather and grow together. We wanted a medical partner to create a wellness approach to it as well."

What makes the project special is that even though the city and county are fronting $12 million in payment, that money was secured through an already implemented sales tax, Mulder said. Residents approved the using of that sales tax for the wellness center with a 74 percent approval.

"So we're going to get a $26 million facility and residents will not pay a single penny more for this construction in taxes," Mulder said.

The center is expected to be completed in summer 2019. It's being built where the old middle school used to be, right across from the school district's campus — a location that was chosen with the expectation students will want to use the center. The Hermantown Community School superintendent said collaboration with the city has been a key part of the development.

"When they (the city) were looking for a place to build, it just so happened this space was available. So it made sense," Kerry Juntunen said. "As a school district, my obligation is to educate. We can help with the overall fitness by educating about health."

The 72,000 square-foot building is one of many projects undertaken by the city. Two derelict fire halls are being demolished to make way for new ones. Priced at $1.7 million, the new fire halls are getting funded through general obligation bonds. Rose Road Park, which has two softball fields, will be adding a third to make it easier to host tournaments.

Taking place at a more incremental pace, private investors are slowly adding businesses to the part of the Hermantown Marketplace complex that wraps around Sam's Club on Haines Road.

"It could be just about anything," said Joe Peterson, one of the developers of the land. "Pizza places, restaurants, retail stores, office space, other professional spaces. There's quite a bit of interest in the project."

While there are plans for eight potential buildings to go up, only two are on the way. As of right now, a Western Bank is going into the southernmost building on Maple Grove Road, with an unknown tenant leasing out space in another building next to it.

Mulder said the city is also looking at expanding some of the trails integrated throughout the city. Recently awarded an $800,000 grant, Hermantown plans to make more accessible paths through the city's soccer fields at Stebner Park. And that's just beginning.

"Ultimately, we want to connect the school and the wellness center by trail all the way down to Keene Creek and ultimately, to Munger Trail," said Mulder. "We hope by the end of 2020, we will have more than a mile of trail."