Following the Duluth School Board's decision Tuesday to move forward with the sale of Historic Old Central High School, the district has announced it is working to enter into a purchase agreement with a property management company.
Saturday Properties, based in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, proposes to turn the building, erected in 1892, into 120-140 mixed-income housing units, ranging from studio apartments to two-bedroom apartments with a den, while preserving the historical integrity of the building, director of development Mark Laverty said.
"Historic Old Central is one of the most well-known historic buildings, not just in Duluth, but in the state," Laverty said. "So it is something we want to be a part of. And frankly, we're just thankful for the opportunity to be part of continuing that history in the area."
The developers have worked with historic buildings before. In early 2017, Saturday Properties converted the historic Gardner Hardware building in Minneapolis into an office space with restaurants.
Applying for state and federal historic tax credits is an essential part of their plan to preserve the building, Laverty said. The Duluth School Board was told in 2019 that it would cost $48.5 million to restore the building.
The state's historic 20% tax credit expires in June unless legislative action is taken to renew it. However, Saturday Properties has plans to apply before then. The location of the building also qualifies the project for additional funding. Since the building is in an Opportunity Zone — an economically stressed area — the project is eligible for generous tax benefits.
The company plans to hold virtual open house meetings soon for neighbors to learn more about the project and provide comment. Until the school district closes on the sale, both parties can back out of the agreement. However, the company's renovation plans include starting the project in late summer or early fall 2021 and finishing by the end of 2022.
Since March, shortly after the building was marketed, the developers have been considering the project. In January, the News Tribune reported that the School Board approved putting the building up for sale without a list price. The board had been told the previous year it would cost $48.5 million to repair the building.
"These are complicated projects, but one we believe can be done," Laverty said.
Historic Old Central served as a high school until 1971. The next year it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"The district is appreciative of Saturday Properties' intent to include public input in the process and looks forward to hearing more about the proposed project and its focus on keeping Historic Old Central High School an iconic landmark in Duluth," a news release from the school district Friday read.
The building currently houses administrative offices as well as programs such as Academic Excellence Online and Area Learning Center, Adult Basic Education. In a News Tribune story earlier this week on the board's unanimous decision to move forward with the sale of the building, Superintendent John Magas said the school district's administration will collaborate with stakeholders on a place to house those programs and staff if the sale is completed.
Saturday Properties has no previous projects in Duluth. However, the developers have pursued different opportunities in the region for the last few years.