$1 million in federal aid to help Duluth revive distressed properties
Brownfield funds make the redevelopment of contaminated sites and structures possible.
DULUTH — A developer's ongoing effort to turn an old county jail into an attractive new 32-unit apartment building was made possible thanks to federal brownfield assistance. The project was held aloft as an example Wednesday when the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would provide Duluth with another $1 million to reclaim additional distressed properties.
Redeveloping the former jail has proven an expensive proposition, due in part to the need to rid the structure of asbestos, lead and PCBs found on site.
EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore said the $1 million earmarked for Duluth would be used "to clean and revitalize brownfield sites."
To illustrate how the money could be used, she pointed to the former St. Louis County Jail — soon to be redubbed the New Burnham Apartment Building — noting that 12 of its 32 units will be reserved for people earning no more than 60% of the area median income.
"The revitalization of this building will boost the community by restoring a historic structure, while adding much-needed housing units to downtown Duluth," Shore said.
In all, Shore announced five grants to Minnesota cities totaling $4.5 million Wednesday morning. "These communities will be able transform contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and visitors and achieve broader economic development, while taking advantage of existing infrastructure," she said.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said: "The EPA has been a really critical partner and funder for us.
"Here in Duluth, our history and our heritage is very deep. It's very rich. It has an industrial past. And it has a very strong future, in partnership with the EPA," Larson said.
She noted that many of the local brownfield projects that have advanced in recent years have been in areas of town that have struggled and praised the recently passed federal infrastructure act for providing more support to communities like Duluth.
"One of the things that I deeply appreciate about the announcement today is also the very specific and strategic focus on on neighborhoods that have been often previously forgotten," Larson said. "We know that's where the concentrations of health disparities are, income disparities, opportunity disparities. So, for the EPA and MPCA and the Biden/Harris administration to really use the power of those dollars to reinvest in core neighborhoods is really something substantial."
Also on hand to express her gratitude for the EPA support at a Wednesday morning news conference was Katrina Kessler, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
"Today's funding announcement is a significant boost to communities throughout Minnesota," she said. "There are more than 10,000 brownfield properties in Minnesota due to contamination. And with so many properties contaminated, Minnesota cannot do this by itself. We need strong federal, state and local partnerships to accomplish this important work."