District has more suitors for Central High School property

“I feel quite confident that things will come to fruition in the near future,” Duluth Public Schools Superintendent John Magas said Wednesday.

Former Duluth Central High School
Duluth’s Central High School closed in 2011.
Steve Kuchera / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — School district officials are confident they’ll soon sell Central High School, which was shuttered in 2011.

The district has three “dedicated, interested parties” vying for the property at 800 E. Central Entrance, according to Greg Follmer, its listing real estate broker. For years, the district has been trying to sell an approximately 50-acre portion of the land it owns uphill from downtown Duluth.

There’s no deadline, self-imposed or otherwise, for the district to sell the property, but Follmer told the News Tribune he hopes to have a sale arranged in the next 30 days. The property’s listing price is approximately $7.9 million .

“We have no current buyer that has been selected, but we do have really strong interest,” Follmer said Wednesday. “We’re having meetings rapidly right now to determine who would be the next purchaser.”

Superintendent John Magas was similarly optimistic.


“Given that there are multiple parties interested and they seem very interested, I feel quite confident that things will come to fruition in the near future,” he said.

Each of the three suitors envisions a residential development of some stripe, Follmer said.

“Some of them are doing mostly residential, and some of them are considering it for residential, commercial and whatever opportunities that come along, et cetera,” he said.

But Duluth Public Schools has been down this road before .

In 2015, a $10 million deal with Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors fell through due to the “extraordinary” costs for utilities, demolition and roadwork. In 2016, School Board members narrowly voted against a $14.2 million offer from Duluth Edison Charter Schools .

And, last month, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.-based Saturday Properties backed out of a sale , citing market conditions and “city expectations.”

So what’s different this time?

Magas said he couldn’t comment on that, but Follmer said he didn’t believe there was a material difference between Saturday Properties' offer and the current purported interest.


“I think, you know, the issues of the previous buyer were their own, and I don’t have the same fear factor from any of these people that was ... that came with the Saturday property group,” Follmer said. “They worked very hard to try to get to the finish line on it, and they just had, you know, a different way of thinking of how they do their investment than others.”

City, district development agreement in works

Meanwhile, school district and city officials are working on a contract that would set the table for a new development at Central High School.

The city’s planning commission in November approved a plan to replat the site to carve out a 22-acre spot on the northwestern corner of the property that currently houses the district’s print shop and maintenance facility. The district would hold onto that segment, and plans to sell the remainder of the property to a developer.

Duluth city councilors were scheduled to consider on Monday a development agreement that would spell out further obligations for the city and school district, but school leaders asked for that to be moved to a council meeting May 9.

School district spokesperson Adelle Wellens said neither district leaders nor district lawyers had reviewed the agreement before it was placed on the council agenda.

The agreement, at least as it was prepared for Monday’s meeting, also calls for the school district to grant an easement that would let the public continue using a trail that runs through the property and set aside money to demolish the existing high school building.

You can reach Joe Bowen at 218-720-4172 or .

From the column: "More choices will reach more students and positively impact engagement in school."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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