The Lakewalk Surgery Center appears poised to increase its footprint on the lower side of London Road. The landlord of the outpatient care provider had already purchased a neighboring building that was formerly home to Valentini's restaurant at 1400 London Road. When the eatery closed in 2020, Lakewalk Offices LLC tore down the structure to make room for additional parking and landscaping in support of the medical campus at 1420 London Road.
Now, Lakewalk Offices is making preparations to purchase its neighbor to the east, London Road Car Wash & Lube at 1530 London Road. The sale has not yet closed, according to the manager of the car care business, but he acknowledged a deal is in the making.
Ann Fosness, Lakewalk's administrator, could not be reached for comment Friday. But Dr. Andrew Baertsch of Lakewalk Offices has petitioned the city to rezone the property, along with the existing medical campus, to a mixed use—institutional designation, between 14th and 16th avenues east. That request was supported by the Duluth Planning Commission, which voted to approve the zoning change 5-0 on June 8. On Monday, the Duluth City Council took the next step toward making the new zoning official, when it read a proposed ordinance for the first time. A final approval could come when the council next meets, Sept. 27.
While Lakewalk Office's footprint is likely to grow with the zoning change, its owners have signed an agreement that they will not appreciably increase the height of the existing lakefront campus.
"The developer has informed us that they intend to pursue a district plan for that campus, and that district plan will cover all the existing buildings and any potential phases. We don't have details about the further phases that might happen. But we certainly recognize the importance of revitalization along London Road, and we value the investment that the owners of the Lakewalk Surgery Center have made in that area already. So, we're very interested to see that campus mature," said Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and economic development department.
Fulton explained that the district plan will give city planners a hand in shaping the future development of the campus. "But it's also very beneficial to the ownership group, because then when they're ready to proceed with projects, they've already planned for them, and those plans have already been preapproved by the planning commission. So, they're able to come in and just get a building permit, versus waiting and needing to go through a separate process for each individual property. It provides expediency and certainty for the developer," he said.
Fulton said Lakewalk's plans for growth build off ongoing investments in Duluth's medical industry by nearby health care providers Essentia Health and St. Luke's.
"It really recognizes that for the upper Midwest, Duluth is a regional medical hub, and that we have multiple entities that help comprise a medical care community with different campuses, obviously being distinct from one another," he said.
"When you have a medical cluster like this developing in your community, there are benefits. People get used to coming to this area for medical services and treatment. And you have lots of medical personnel, as well as people involved in maintaining all the medical technology, that leads to a really high level of innovation. So, to some extent, this builds upon other things happening both in the state of Minnesota, which is a hotbed of medical innovation, and it's natural to imagine that both in Minnesota, and the various regions of the state, including Duluth, that it's natural to see this kind of continued investment," Fulton said.
This story originally misrepresented the parties seeking a zoning change. It was updated at 1:35 p.m. Sept. 14 to indicate that property owners in the area, including Lakewalk Offices LLC, Phases I, II and III, are petitioning for the new zoning. The News Tribune regrets the error.