The appearance of construction cranes in Duluth always draws attention.
A pair of cranes operating in the Central Hillside neighborhood of Duluth are there to assist with the construction of the $18-million, 105-unit CityView Flats, which are scheduled to open Sept. 1.
"We brought in a second crane to help speed up the process," said Nate Huber, vice president of MBJ Development Corp. of Minneapolis. "With all the weather and snow, it's been a little rough."
CityView Flats is being built into the hillside across from the Steve O'Neil Apartments on West Fourth Street. The four-story apartment complex (333 N. First Ave. W.) will feature studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments - most at market rate. Ten units have been set aside as rent restricted.
For business observers, the project will bring a much-needed infusion of housing to the neighborhood.
"We have a lot of low to moderate housing in the downtown area," said Brian Hanson, CEO of business development group APEX. "Having a mix would include more market rate and that would be good for the downtown area. We have needs across all categories - all categories are vital in our community."
A 2017 study found the city needed about 2,000 more rental units across all income levels.
For the CityView Flats developers, the desire was to bring "luxury apartments" to within walking distance of Canal Park and the downtown.
To live up to the billing, CityView Flats will include lower-level indoor, heated parking, a fitness center and sauna, high-end appliances, and the finishing flourish - an all-season rooftop party room, hot tub and deck. Lined with glass railings, the deck will feature grilling stations and a bonfire pit with seating.
"It's going to be a great space with a great view of Lake Superior and downtown Duluth," Huber said. "We thought we would bring a building that had high-end amenities. We wanted it to be a good fit for professionals - with the hospital expansion in mind."
MBJ has experience in the Northland already, operating Cascade Springs apartment complex in downtown Duluth and Woodgate Apartments in Cloquet.
Neither of those affordable-housing complexes features rents approaching what the costs will be at CityView Flats, where a one-bedroom will go for $1,355 per month or a rent-controlled $940 per month.
So far, construction, which began in September, has included the precast concrete parking garage being put in and a build out of the first-floor offices and communal spaces.
Johnson Wilson Constructors is in the process of doing the floor-by-floor wood framing.
The development of CityView Flats was aided by a $180,000 grant from the Minnesota Finance Housing Agency. Also, both St. Louis County and the city of Duluth agreed to tax abatement totaling $800,000 in order to help facilitate the development. Once it's back on the tax rolls, it's expected to generate $195,000 annually in property taxes.
When making the case for abatement, the city administration noted the city's shortage of workforce housing.
"I can see the cranes from my window," Hanson said. "Projects that can support our medical industry and thriving downtown are important."