Steve Bystedt and Carrie Heikkila bought their condominium at 414 W. First St. for its full-on views of the harbor, access to the skyway system and location on the quieter end of downtown.
Now that a 15-story, $80 million corporate tower and adjacent parking ramp is planned at 425 W. Superior St. -- 30 feet across the alley from their living room window -- it will no longer be the home they envisioned.
"We support the project; we just don't want to live in the middle of it," Bystedt said. "We want to move on."
The residents of the building access parking through the alley so there is concern about that during the construction process, along with traffic, noise, dust and vibrations. Post-construction, residents on the south-facing side will have lost their view. But it's not just about that, Heikkila said. Being mere feet from a 15-story building means a loss of air circulation, light and privacy.
They are asking the project partners to compensate anyone in the building who chooses to move. The project partners are the city of Duluth, which will own and operate the 600-space parking ramp,
AtWater Group, the developer that owns the property, and Maurices, which is investing $30 million in the project and will move its headquarters to the tower. The city is matching an $8.6 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
And while there have been several meetings or contacts with the city and AtWater, said resident Derrick Passe, no answers have been given about how their concerns will be addressed.
"They keep saying wait until there are construction plans," he said. "We prefer we'd be considered right up front."
AtWater Group President Brian Forcier said the final design isn't complete yet, and that design will dictate "the measures we take to make sure we are good neighbors."
"There are some really good players and partners here trying to do it the best they can with minimal impact, but we are going to have a substantial construction project here," he said. "I also feel very comfortable with McGough Construction who are experts in this type of urban ... project."
When asked what he thought about purchasing condos from those at 414 W. First St., Forcier said the AtWater Group didn't plan on owning anything in that area beyond the footprint of 425 W. Superior St. and the Palladio Building.
"We ultimately know they do want to sell their condo and have some kind of compensation for building next to them," he said. "But we're going to great lengths to be good neighbors."
Forcier said a final design could possibly be completed by the end of summer. Demolition of the KDLH building is expected to begin later this year, with construction of the complex slated to begin in early 2014. The targeted completion is late 2015.
The Duluth News Tribune -- at 424 W. First St. -- is also a neighbor of the project and the condo owners. Publisher Ken Browall said AtWater and the city have told him that as the project moves forward, "we'll be informed that if anything affects us, they'll let us know," he said.
McGough Construction will be in touch with homeowners as soon it knows what measures will be taken to address their concerns, said Chris Eng, director of business and economic development for the city of Duluth.
"I know they want to know yesterday, but we just are not that far yet. A lot of details have to be fine-tuned," he said, noting a meeting has been planned with homeowners for next week.
As far as possible buyouts, Eng said the original request in the grant application to the state didn't include acquisition of properties adjacent to the former KDLH building.
"I would expect the state would want to know how it benefits the project," he said. "But I completely understand their concerns."
City Council member Sharla Gardner has met with the condo owners to take their concerns to the city.
"Their quality of life will be greatly affected," she said, and they want to be included in planning discussions.
The unknowns of the project -- whether there will be night-time construction or if skyway or alley access will remain during that time, for example -- are always on the minds of residents, Passe said.
"The city sends in their application and says it's the largest development in city history. And we're excited for the city," he said. "But at the same time, we're concerned it will drastically affect what we've come to appreciate in our homes."