Plans for construction of the 15-story mixed-use complex at the corner of Superior Street and Fourth Avenue East in Duluth are back on after several postponements.

An environmental assessment worksheet submitted to the city by developer Northstar Development Interests LLC stated that demolition of the three buildings on the lot, site preparation and construction are scheduled to begin this fall once approval and funding is completely secured.

The high rise will have 200 apartments and three townhomes above the retail space on the first two floors. Construction was initially slated to begin no later than Dec. 31, 2019, but has been delayed several times for reasons including "current uncertain market conditions" due to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.

Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and economic development division, said the project has secured all necessary permits from the city and will add housing options to the downtown medical district. He also said the mixed-use building will complement the area without blocking too much of the lake view, thanks to the steep grade of the hillside behind the development.

"We hope this is just the first of (Northstar Development Interests) projects because they're talented and they really know what they're doing and they have a strong sense of how to revitalize downtown spaces," Fulton said.

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The complex will be built in the Duluth Commercial Historic District, in place of the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn, the former Hacienda Del Sol restaurant and the former First Oriental Grocery.

This building at 319 E. Superior St., Duluth, was home to the Hacienda del Sol restaurant. (Bob King / 2016 file / News Tribune)
This building at 319 E. Superior St., Duluth, was home to the Hacienda del Sol restaurant. (Bob King / 2016 file / News Tribune)

"These buildings are currently vacant and have been impacted by vandalism in recent years," Northstar wrote in the proposal, referring to the restaurant and grocery buildings. "Incorporation or reuse of the existing structures is not practical. The buildings currently pose a safety risk for the community and surrounding occupied buildings."

Their demolition may warrant salvaging historical components or signage acknowledging the buildings. The Voyageur Lakewalk Inn has not been evaluated for National Register eligibility, likely due to the 1959 construction not meeting the 50-year criteria at the time of previous surveys, the proposal said.

The new construction will have 2,000-square-foot and 16,000-square-foot retail spaces — the later for possibly a grocery store — on the first floor, and a 3,000-square-foot commercial space on the second floor.

Parking spaces have been designated in an adjoining parking ramp, the proposal stated. Parking spots for the three townhomes will be on the second floor of the complex, along with a terrace and fitness center for apartment residents.

A rendering of the proposed 15-story apartment building at 333 E. Superior St., Duluth, which would replace the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn. Developers hope to attract a grocery store to the ground level of the 200-unit complex with 21,000 square feet of commercial space.
A rendering of the proposed 15-story apartment building at 333 E. Superior St., Duluth, which would replace the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn. Developers hope to attract a grocery store to the ground level of the 200-unit complex with 21,000 square feet of commercial space.

Construction will likely happen concurrently with the Essentia Health Vision Northland expansion, which is underway on the adjacent corner.

"One of the exciting facets of this project is how closely it ties to the Essentia project and the more improved use of structured parking downtown," Fulton said. "We're trying to be as effective with our urban infrastructure as we can while we also try to create a dynamic environment near the (Historic Arts and Theater) district," Fulton said.

In December 2019, the Duluth Economic Development Authority approved $6.2 million in tax-increment financing — a form of subsidy that uses new property taxes generated by a project to cover certain qualifying development costs. The total cost of the complex was last estimated to be around $75 million.

A public meeting to review the environmental assessment will be held virtually at 5 p.m. March 9 at duluthmn.gov. The deadline for public comment is March 25.