After pressure from the Duluth News Tribune, Duluth Public Schools released the purchase agreement for Historic Old Central High School on Friday evening.

The selling price? $3 million.

On Oct. 13, the Duluth School Board unanimously approved moving forward with the sale of Historic Old Central and gave administrators the authority to negotiate a purchase agreement with developer Saturday Properties. The developer aims to turn the school into a 125-unit apartment building at an anticipated cost of about $43 million.

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At least 10% of the units will be dedicated for households earning no more than 60% of the area median income under the terms of a pending development agreement.

The purchase agreement, which was entered into on Oct. 28, requires that the State Historic Preservation Office determine the appropriate treatments are in place to avoid and mitigate any adverse effects on the physical features and historic character of Historic Old Central.

Historic Old Central opened in 1892 and was modeled after the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. The Richardsonian Romanesque-style school was designed by Emmet S. Palmer and Lucien P. Hall.

The building served as a regular high school until 1971 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places a year later.

The agreement also gives Saturday Properties many outs. The purchase agreement can be terminated by the developer:

  • If they do not get approval from the city of Duluth to rezone the property.

  • If they don’t get approval for tax increment financing (TIF) through the Duluth City Council or Duluth Economic Development Authority.

  • If they don’t receive a “brownfields” award or any other applicable grant funding in an amount satisfactory to them.

  • If they are not approved for a historic tax credit from the National Park Service.

  • If the Minnesota Historic Structure Rehabilitation Tax credit or the federal historic preservation tax incentives program is repealed.

The developer can terminate the agreement up until 5 p.m. July 25 if any one of the conditions above occurs. The Minnesota Historic Structure Rehabilitation Tax credit is set to sunset on June 30.

This project will go to the city of Duluth planning commission on Tuesday, May 11, to consider modification of a development district that would open the door for TIF assistance.

The closing date of the sale has not been sent yet but, according to the agreement, it must occur not more than 90 days after July 25.

As with every purchase agreement the district signs in regards to the sale of property it owns, the developer is prohibited from using the property “as a school for the purpose of conducting programs for children between the ages of 5 and 18.”

Issues of public data

If a government entity, such as Duluth Public Schools, is selling a property, the purchase agreement becomes public data when the negotiating parties sign an agreement.

The News Tribune first requested the purchase agreement April 7 using the district’s data request form and received a response saying it would be released once the sale closed. The newspaper once again requested the purchase agreement April 13, pointing to State Statute 13.44.

Over the course of the month, the district never denied that a purchase agreement had been signed but refused to release the requested information. By not doing so, the district was in violation of Minnesota State Statute 13.44 Subdivision 3(c).

More than a week later, April 21, the district responded to the second request for data, citing Minnesota State Statute 13D.05, Subdivision 3, stating it “provides that purchase agreements are not public until closing.”

That statute relates to when public bodies can enter into a closed-door meeting and when the recording of the closed-door meeting becomes public data.

“The open meeting law does not classify data,” said Taya Moxley-Goldsmith, director of the Data Practices Office at the Minnesota Department of Administration. “When a government entity, like a public school district, denies access to data, it must cite the statutory provision that classifies the data as not public. The authority to close a meeting does not determine access to the underlying data.”

Minnesota Statute 13D.05, Subdivision 3, even says once an agreement is reached and the public body votes to approve the agreement, “the purchase price or sale price is public data.”

The district emailed the News Tribune at about 5 p.m. Friday saying:

“ISD 709 has reviewed your request for access to the purchase agreement for Historic Old Central High School (HOCHS). Our response to the data request has been consistent with our past practice for responding to data requests related to real estate transactions and with the district’s understanding of Minnesota law. Considering the unique nature of HOCHS and the district's intention of and commitment to sharing the process with the community, we are making the purchase agreement available.”

"Although it took nearly a month for our data request to finally be honored, the News Tribune is pleased that this public information has been released by Duluth Public Schools so that we can make it available to members of the community," said Rick Lubbers, News Tribune executive editor.

This story was updated at 7:22 p.m. May 7 with information from the Historic Old Central High School purchase agreement. It was originally posted at 5:39 p.m. May 7.