Developer challenges Duluth to speed up

DULUTH - Developer Dan Woodley made an impassioned plea Monday to the Duluth Council to speed up downtown redevelopment and provide additional parking.

Woodley owns a 3.5-acre tract at the corner of Hill Street and Ridgeway Road on which he plans to build a retail and residential development with one level of underground parking to accommodate his project.

The topography of the lot would allow a second level of underground parking, which Woodley proposed the city construct. He estimated that the two levels would add 350 parking spaces.

A proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the old City Hall block by other developers includes parking, but Woodley said there wouldn't be enough extra spaces.

Woodley also said he has expressed willingness for a library or a community theatre to be built on part of his property.

"Let's do something that makes our city viable" that will keep businesses from closing and leaving downtown, Woodley said.

"Which one of you will stand up and make something happen?" Woodley challenged the council. Past "inaction and misaction has been appalling," he said.

City Administrator Phil McLemore informed Woodley that the city is having his property appraised and is considering purchasing it.

The city could put in parking with "some other use on top of it," Councilman Marsha Anderson Bomar said. There are funding mechanisms available to the city now to help expedite improvements, Bomar said. A public-private sector project by the city and Woodley to provide more parking is also a possibility, she said.

Bomar said she is moving her company downtown.

"Downtown needs life pumped into it. I don't think anyone here would disagree with you," Bomar said.

"We are setting goals and trying to speed things along," Councilman Greg Whitlock told Woodley.

A library site would be a Gwinnett County, not a city, decision, since the county operates the library system, said Councilman Jim Dugan. As for a new theatre, "we have a theatre currently in existence," he said, "and we need to let it get established."

Councilman Doug Mundrick suggested that Woodley bring the parking issue up at the next Duluth Downtown Development Authority meeting.