Hope overcomes obstacles

Duluth's former Harborview public housing project at the high-profile corner of Central Entrance and Mesaba Avenue still resembles old Hibbing, where decades ago the iron ore barons removed neighborhoods to scoop out the world's largest open-pit ...

Duluth's former Harborview public housing project at the high-profile corner of Central Entrance and Mesaba Avenue still resembles old Hibbing, where decades ago the iron ore barons removed neighborhoods to scoop out the world's largest open-pit mine.

The roads are still there. The foundations are still there. Even the sidewalks and railings are still there.

Dubbed Harbor Highlands, the project to replace Harborview -- part of a larger initiative called HOPE VI -- has been fraught with unforeseen obstacles, said Rick Ball, executive director of Duluth HRA.

One has been a jump in the cost of construction materials because of Hurricane Katrina. Another is a slowdown in the housing market.

But HOPE VI is moving forward, the project's multiple partners said. The progress might seem slight to people who can't see the entire community of new homes from Central Entrance. And parts of the HOPE VI project are spread across other Duluth neighborhoods.


This spring, Harbor Highlands Phase II is expected to begin. The project, called the Seasons at Harbor Highland, features 17 single-family homes and duplexes as well as basketball courts. Prospective buyers will be able to select their countertops, cabinets and carpet, said Gita Sweeney, senior development manager of the Communities Group, HOPE VI's private co-developer and part owner.

It has been about 2½ years since the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority began the $150 million-plus undertaking to replace 200 1950s-era, barracks-style public housing units known as Harborview. In its place they planned Harbor Highlands, a mix of 269 affordable apartments and duplexes with moderate- and market-rate homes, condos, a community center, beauty shop and convenience store.

Though Harbor Highlands is about two years behind its original schedule, Ball said, it should be complete by the end of 2009.

"We're really not too far off," said Ball, adding that the 200 units initially torn down have been replaced.

Incentives are provided for first-time homebuyers, and the marketing campaign just got under way with a Web site, The Seasons also will include a six-unit apartment building with a child-care center on the main floor.

The entire Harbor Highland neighborhood also is now accessible to the Central Hillside via West 10th Street and North Lake Avenue as well as by three new roads: Red Rock Trail, Village View Drive and Harbor Highlands Drive.

They are trying to attract young couples and the elderly to Harbor Highlands, Ball said.

The combination of low and moderate incomes in a variety of living quarters is called the "new urbanism model," Ball said. The condos will be priced "modestly" between $250,000 and $300,000, with homes in a similar range, he said.


"The thing that is really neat about the HOPE VI project is that they are building all over the city instead of having people of lower incomes concentrated in one spot," said Robert Vokes of the Local Initiatives Support Group, which is a HOPE VI partner. "It's healthier for Duluth."

Here's what's done or under way so far:

* There are 44 new single and duplex-style rental units -- some with views of Lake Superior -- at Harbor Highlands just below Central High School.

* Village Place Apartments just down Sixth Avenue East and up from East Fourth Street. The building has 55 apartments for low- and moderate-income families.

* The Village at Matterhorn by the Miller Hill Mall, which opened this month, will provide 96 rentals for mixed incomes. It is expected to attract employees of nearby retailers.

* Phase I of Hawk Ridge Estates, to be made up of 130 new homes in Lakeside/Lester Park. About 40 percent would be affordable to families with moderate incomes.

Here's what's left to accomplish:

* Phase III of Harbor Highlands, to be built this year and next, will finally see Copeland Community Center knocked down and rebuilt. The neighborhood will have a park at its core with an amphitheater. This portion also contains several six-plexes at the neighborhood's core.


* Phase IV of Harbor Highlands, which runs along Central Entrance, will include a large condominium development with commercial space on the bottom level. It should be completed in 2009 and includes a number of single-family homes along the neighborhood's edges.

* Phase II and III of Hawk Ridge Estates, about 86 homes, is still to be finished. Many of those homes and lots are still for sale.

* Ball said developers might build another complex in an undetermined Duluth neighborhood, maybe in western Duluth.

"Progress so far has been a little bit slow on the homeownership side because they caught up in construction costs and [housing] market issues," said Keith Hamre, manager of the city of Duluth Community Development and Housing Department. "But we've seen a lot of success on the other projects, and we are excited to see the homeownership part come into play. But whenever you undertake a project of this magnitude, you are going to go through some slow times."

The city has been a major partner in all the HOPE VI developments, along with several state and nonprofit housing agencies and businesses. Duluth won a $20 million grant in March 2003 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to leverage the money into the entire project.

Ball said one of the endeavor's great accomplishments has been the commitment to offer job training to many former Harborview residents. Some former residents have been hired to help build the new homes.

The HRA provides housing assistance and acts as landlord for thousands of Duluthians. Officials have relocated and tracked residents who would someday like to move back. Ball said with the help of the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, the HRA found new homes and stayed in contact with almost all of the 550 former Harborview residents.

Chue Feng Vang, who works at Copeland in the computer lab, was relocated about three blocks from Harbor Highlands. He's not sure if he'll move back into a rental because HOPE VI is helping him in a homebuyer's program, and rents in the new properties are higher than he can afford.


"I think it's good for the neighborhood, but I want to wait until they finish up before I make a decision," he said. "Maybe the price will go down."

CHRIS HAMILTON covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5502 or by e-mail at .

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