Proposed Duluth waterfront condos could boast million-dollar views

The would-be developer will seek a variance to accommodate the 55-foot height of the building.

An artist's rendering shows The Breakers, a development proposed for Water Street in Duluth. Contributed / Arola Architecture Studio

A swanky new 16-unit condominium soon may be coming to Duluth.

Drawing inspiration from the waters of Lake Superior, which the four-story building will directly overlook, developer Sandy Hoff has dubbed the development The Breakers.

As proposed, the building would stand 55 feet tall and would require a variance, as it exceeds the 45-foot maximum height allowed under the existing zoning. That request for an exception will go to the Duluth Planning Commission for consideration when it next meets at 5 p.m., Oct. 12.

"The challenge we're facing is with the quantity of rock and the size of that site. If we were to dig any deeper into the rock, our ramp access into the garage would be too steep to meet ADA (Americans with Disability Act) requirements," Hoff said.


The Breakers.jpg
Gary Meader /

City staff are recommending the height variance be approved.

"We tend to look at the two criteria of: the practical difficulty of a project and its reasonableness. And the lot is significantly encumbered by a number of things, and they're also trying to make sure it's sensitive to Water Street, as well as Lake Superior. So, in order to squeeze a building into that location, this does appear to be a reasonable request," said Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and economic development division.

The proposed building would exceed the 45-foot height of the nearby Beacon Pointe development.

Given the change in elevation as you move away from the lake, Hoff said he suspects the proposed height variance will cause no hardships for neighbors.

"The zoning allows for 45 feet. So, the incremental difference in the amount of incremental viewshed that it will take up in the skyline is nominal," he said.

Hoff said the proposed condominiums will range in size from 1,750 to 2,900 square feet and unit prices likely will list for between about $900,000 and upward of $2 million.


An artist's rendering shows a planned idea for the rooftop of the proposed development called The Breakers. Contributed / Arola Architecture Studio

While that price range is beyond the reach of most residents, Fulton said he trusts the prospective investors have conducted sufficient market research to feel confident moving ahead with the project.

"We certainly do recognize there's extensive demand for housing in Duluth, and that includes housing at all different levels, both at the higher and lower ends," he said.

The approximately $18 million project will be completely privately funded with no public assistance, according to Hoff. He hopes to begin construction in spring 2022 and complete the work by 2023.

Hoff estimates the finished condos will generate more than $300,000 in annual property tax revenues. He also said the project will address preexisting soil contamination issues on the site.

Hoff said the proposed development will not encroach on a previously established easement for a Lakewalk extension along the waterfront. But he sees little likelihood of the trail being installed any time soon.

"We met with the Friends of the Lakewalk group and shared with them what the scope of our project is," he said.

An extension of the Lakewalk was planned behind the Beacon Pointe Resort, but the development was built in such close proximity to the shore that there was insufficient room for a full multi-use, and subsequent erosion has only complicated the situation.


Meanwhile, a bluestone pedestrian walkway was installed behind a townhome development called The Ledges to the east of where The Breakers condominiums are proposed. That path has been closed due to shoreline erosion, as well. And there is an intervening easement gap across property owned by Cindy and Paul Hayden, directly east of the proposed Breakers development.

The Breakers, a development proposed for Water Street in Duluth, would stand 55 feet tall and would require a variance. Contributed / Arola Architecture Studio

"It's a trail to nowhere at the moment, and initial discussions with the city are that they are uncertain what future plans are for that section of the trail, if any," Hoff said.

Fulton confirmed: "The easement is in place, should that ever become something that is a priority for the city at some point in time. But it is not something that would be appropriate at this point in time, based on the current circumstances in the surrounding area."

This story originally listed the wrong date of the next Planning Commission meeting. It was updated at 12:05 p.m. Oct. 7 with the correct date. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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