A 15-story apartment building may soon be on the rise on East Superior Street in downtown Duluth.
The tower, which would replace the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn at 333 E. Superior St., is slated to include 204 rental units with retail on the ground floor. Developers want to attract an urban grocery store to fill much of that street-level space.
"It's a skyline changer," said Brian Forcier of Titanium Partners. "There is not another site like this in Duluth. We're going to take this one-time opportunity to get it right."
The $75 million project is a partnership between Duluth's Titanium Partners, Madison-based Landmark and Chicago developer Gerald Fogelson. It could be move-in ready as soon as 2021.
"Let's make this the most it can be for Duluth," said Rob Robinson of Landmark. "Let's make the Voyageur site redevelopment the new anchor for that side of Superior Street and bring new residents downtown."
The building joins the $1 billion in hospital projects at nearby Essentia Health and St. Luke's - among other potential developments - that will remake the broader medical district over the next several years.
"This is really the kickoff of some of the growth and expansion we are going to be seeing in Duluth over the next two to five years," Mayor Emily Larson said. "It's a big deal for a developer to take that step, and have the confidence in this community and in the market at a time of great optimism in this community."
The complex will certainly help address Duluth's rental shortage - a study last year found the city needs about 2,000 more units across all income levels.
"Two hundred new units for housing is a game-changer," Larson said.
It's too early to know how much rent will be, but Forcier and Robinson said they're keeping affordable housing needs in mind.
"It's something we're focused on, just trying to figure out what's a good strategy for that type of unit," Robinson said. "There's a lot of ability for units looking down on a courtyard (rather than the lake) - they can be at a different price point."
There are no plans to build a new parking ramp to complement the apartments - existing parking structures in the area will be used, and Forcier said it's possible many renters will forego a car altogether.
"It's probably folks working in the medical campuses that are living here," Forcier said. "It will be skywalk-connected."
No grocery store has yet been identified for the 18,000-square-foot space on the ground floor designed to fit one, but overtures have been made to several possible tenants.
"They don't gravitate naturally to Superior Street, but we think it would be a great site," Robinson said. "You've got 400-plus residents above you, the Sheraton next to you, the medical district next to you - it seems like a natural fit to us."
The scope of the project was made possible in part by Opportunity Zones, a new federal program included as part of tax reform that passed at the beginning of the year. It allows investors to defer taxes when they reinvest capital gains in certain areas.
"We've got full equity to pull this project off, but at the same time we've talked as partners about making this a community project too, and opening it up to local investment," Forcier said.
The project will go before the Duluth Economic Development Authority and city council in December.
"We're timing this with Superior Street reconstruction," the east end of which begins next year, Forcier said. "There's the hope we can get our ducks in a row and get going at the same time the streets are ripped up."
The Voyageur Lakewalk Inn will remain open ahead of construction.