Already on the move this summer, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority will change offices once again in 2020 - this time into a permanent home back on the waterfront.
The Port Authority's board of commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to purchase the aptly named Seaway Building on Rice's Point. The Seaway Building is located on Garfield Avenue, fronting property already owned by the Port Authority. The board agreed to pay $935,000 for the building. There was little to debate on the topic, which was part of a closed session discussion in April.
"This makes the best sense both financially and for the long term of the port - where we need to be," commissioner Tony Sertich said during the Port Authority's first meeting in its temporary Lincoln Park home.
The Port Authority vacated its previous home on Rice's Point earlier this month in order to accommodate expansion of the fast-growing Altec Industries. Rice's Point is a waterfront peninsula located under the Blatnik Bridge and extending into St. Louis and Superior bays. It is already home to a host of Port Authority properties and Duluth Cargo Connect, the Port Authority's multimodal cooperative with Lake Superior Warehousing Co.
"It's a natural fit for us to be on the waterfront and also in the industrial center of the city," said Kate Ferguson, the Port Authority's director of business development.
The building sale is expected to close next April, giving current owner Duluth Builders Exchange and additional tenants time to relocate. A representative for Duluth Builders Exchange said the company is currently exploring options for its next home.
The Port Authority will renovate the two-story building before an expected move-in date of May 2020, said interim executive director Kevin Beardsley.
"It's the first thing you see when you get on Rice's Point," Beardsley said. "It's a welcoming building."
The Seaway Building was built in 1890, said a property details report on file with St. Louis County. Its maritime connections are more recent, said a Port Authority news release, which detailed its history since 1979 as a one-time home to grain agencies, Great Lakes pilots organizations, shipping agents and stevedoring groups.
Duluth Builders Exchange, a nonprofit organization representing more than 400 firms and individuals in the local construction industry, has owned the building since 1993. Talks between the Port Authority and Builders Exchange began two years ago, said sources with the Port Authority.
What started as discussions about how the Port Authority could better access its 4-5 acres of property behind the Seaway Building evolved over time, they said. As the Altec expansion discussions materialized, the Seaway Building became one of four properties the Port Authority considered for its new home. The others were land-only properties already in the Port Authority's portfolio.
The Port Authority hired architects to help imagine what new buildings on some of those properties would look like. In the end, the Port Authority chose to go with the existing building, which will require the addition of an elevator - mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act - and a sprinkler system.
The Seaway Building is fronted by a series of tall windows and distinguished by its red brick. Other changes could be in the offing, including replacing the current wooden second floor with steel and concrete. But what the final build-out will entail has not yet been decided upon. The Port Authority is paying cash for the building from its operations budget, Beardsley said.
"It was all part of doing our due diligence," he said. "We looked at every option we had. It's going to be a considerable investment for us, but it should also be one final move there."