$1 million in federal aid to help Duluth revive distressed properties

Brownfield funds make the redevelopment of contaminated sites and structures possible.

Former St. Louis County Jail building
The former St. Louis County Jail is being repurposed as a 32-unit apartment building with some help from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Bob King / 2018 file / Duluth News Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

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."

After languishing for years, a historic building once destined for demolition is finally being repurposed.

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.

Brownfield funds helped redevelop a former cement terminal property on Duluth's waterfront into the upscale Pier B Resort and Restaurant, shown here under construction in December 2017.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

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."

Districts north and south will feature seven seats up for election in November. What are these boards and why are they important?
A swimmer found a zebra mussel on a rock in Long Lake north of Willmar, and her father contacted the DNR. A search found one zebra mussel at each of two locations searched by DNR snorkelers.
The study will inform the federal government on whether to place a 20-year ban on that type of mining in the watershed.
From the column: "A Talon Metals nickel-sulfide mine is being planned that could destroy the wild rice fields, paddling and boating, hiking, farming, hunting and fishing, and all the ways we benefit from and enjoy the land."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
What to read next
Breaking News
The victim died at a local hospital.
Stevie and Sandy Paulson, along with the Northland Campus of Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, hosted the 14th Annual Breezy Point 5K north of Duluth on Saturday. The walk-bike-run race starts and ends in the Paulson’s driveway at their home on Island Lake. Over 550 people registered for the race, which raises funds and awareness for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. In 2021, the event raised more than $60,000 and overall, the Breezy Point 5K has raised over $350,000 for recovery from addiction.
Fewer in-person summer school options could make it tough for students to catch up academically.
Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at