Downtown Duluth's historic Board of Trade building will reopen next month, bringing 84 apartment units to the city when complete.

A Chicago-based developer plans to open two floors of the Board of Trade Lofts in mid-August, with the remaining floors opening later. Twenty percent of the office-turned-apartment units will be income-based in the building, located on West First Street.

Built in 1895, the building once housed grain and commodity trading until the 1970s. Most recently, it was used as office space and wasn't "utilized to its full potential," said Alex Rogers, principal broker with East West Property Management.

Traders buy and sell grain on the floor of the Board of Trade Building in November 1953. Brokers used the phone booths located below the chalk commodity board to take orders and consult with clients while the exchange was operating. The trading floor closed for good in 1972. (Courtesy of Northeast Minnesota Historical Center)
Traders buy and sell grain on the floor of the Board of Trade Building in November 1953. Brokers used the phone booths located below the chalk commodity board to take orders and consult with clients while the exchange was operating. The trading floor closed for good in 1972. (Courtesy of Northeast Minnesota Historical Center)

Turning office spaces into affordable housing "makes a lot of sense," Rogers said, as there's a major need for this housing type in the city and less need for commercial space, as more people work from home.

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On the third and fourth floors, studios are less than 400 square feet and priced at $799 per month. One-bedrooms start at around 400 square feet and run $975 per month, while two-bedrooms, which start at over 700 square feet, are $1,275 a month.

Rogers said he envisions a wide range of residents, including college students, young professionals and families, renting units.

The Dubin Guru Group plans to house commercial and retail space on the first floor, office space on the second floor, mixed-income apartments in the third through seventh floors, and commercial space on the eighth and ninth "mezzanine" floor.

Historic features accent the apartments. Some units have safe doors, which once contained money the traders used.

"There's little pieces like that throughout the building that have been kept to retain their charm," Rogers said.

Several historical features are preserved such as this safe door in the new apartments at the Board of Trade building in downtown Duluth.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Several historical features are preserved such as this safe door in the new apartments at the Board of Trade building in downtown Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The Dubin Guru Group purchased the building in 2017 for $800,000. It then received a tax-increment financing package of $1.8 million for the project, which is a subsidy that uses new property taxes, (generated by a project), to cover qualifying development costs.

Former commercial tenants, like The Exchange deli and bakery and the Minnesota Ballet, left their Board of Trade retail spaces in recent years. The owner of The Exchange said a combination of retirement, the expiration of their lease and an upcoming rent increase influenced the restaurant's closure in September. The Minnesota Ballet moved out of the building in 2018 due to rent increases.

Other tenants started leaving in 2016 when a chimney collapsed and damaged the building, which left much of the building vacant.

There's no underground or covered parking for the renovated building. A handful of commercial parking spaces will be located around a half-block away, while resident parking will be farther down the street in the Civic Center ramp, Rogers said.

The Board of Trade apartments in downtown Duluth.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
The Board of Trade apartments in downtown Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

This off-site parking doesn't concern Rogers, he said, as the Civic Center ramp is connected to skywalks that lead to the building.

There's about 6,500 square feet of commercial space on the first floor, which includes current tenants, and another 5,400 square feet of commercial office space on the second floor, said Rob Kost, director of commercial services at Upland Real Estate Group, Inc.

They hope to fill the commercial spaces with a mix of local and national businesses, which residents could easily access, Kost said.

"I like the idea of a mix of national and local because it creates a little more stability for landlords and the community," he said.

The approximately 5,200-square-foot commercial space on the eighth floor is still available for lease. The ninth floor, which Kost called a "bonus area," has an old wooden bar and could be used as an event space.

"The building is just really fantastic, (and there's) lots of those in Duluth. But this one, with the renovation and the really cool apartments, it's a cool project," Kost said.