Plans to build a new 1,400-vehicle parking ramp to support the growth of Essentia Health in downtown Duluth took another step forward Wednesday night, when the Duluth Economic Development Authority approved a resolution authorizing staff to acquire a crucial piece of tax-forfeited property by a 5-0 vote.
The parcel is located in the 300 block of East First Street, and DEDA expects to charge Essentia a little more than $28,400 for the property to cover its costs and fees.
The proposed ramp is expected to stretch the full length of the block, and the resolution describes the structure as "a key element of (Essentia's) $800 million development."
The ramp is expected to be be funded primarily with the help of $36.4 million in state funds — part of a nearly $98 million aid package the state approved during the most recent legislative session to support the growth of Duluth's downtown medical district, including the campuses of Essentia Health and St. Luke's.
Essentia recently purchased five properties on the same block in anticipation of a ramp being built there. The project has stirred community concerns about the potential loss of affordable housing in the neighborhood, with 19 units of housing on the block likely to be demolished.
Mayor Emily Larson expressed confidence Essentia will work with displaced tenants to find alternate housing. In comments to the News Tribune earlier this month about the situation, she said: "Having the net loss of affordable housing is not an option for this community. So I think Essentia likely has a few choices that they need to make ... about how they want to partner with either nonprofit organizations, the city or other housing providers to be a part of the housing solution, as the public is co-invested in their expansion."
Plans for the project call for the city to own and operate the new structure as a public parking ramp, although it is expected to serve Essentia primarily, due to its close proximity.
No timeline for the construction of the ramp has yet been established, said Adam Fulton, interim director of the city's planning and development division.
"It was important to us that for purposes of acquisition of that property that there be a purchase agreement in place between DEDA and Essentia, so that is the step that DEDA acted on tonight," he said.
DEDA commissioners passed the resolution to authorize the acquisition swiftly Wednesday, with no discussion.
Fulton said he had no further information about how residents potentially displaced by the parking ramp would be handled but added: "It continues to be something that we are working together with Essentia to address."