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Duluth moving forward with downtown revitalization project

DULUTH - The Duluth City Council Monday unanimously voted to allow a downtown redevelopment project to proceed without preserving the church building that served as the former City Hall and the parsonage.

The council's action releases the potential developer of the old City Hall block from incorporating the church in the proposed Duluth Town Center so the project would be economically feasible to develop. The proposed turn of the century-style redevelopment includes mixed office, retail and residential uses.

Specific plans for the project still have to be approved by city's Downtown Development Authority and the council.

The DDA voted Aug. 27 to recommend that the council take this action after the developer indicated he would not be able to go forward with the project if the two buildings remained. The council heard comments from citizens seeking to save the church and others urging the council to proceed with the project at a joint meeting with the DDA Sept. 10.

Concept plans presented last fall by the developer, a partnership of the Milestone Group and Coro Realty Advisors, kept the old City Hall, the former First Baptist Church of Duluth located on West Lawrenceville St., intact.

"It's not our heart's desire to create tension or division in the community," commented Councilwoman Marsha Anderson Bomar. "We are all trying to do what's best for the city."

"We have a commitment from the developer," Bomar also said, "to honor the feel and history of that building in the city." She encouraged citizens to stay involved and provide input to the plans.

"I hate to see the delightful building at the end of the (town) green go, but it's the right thing to do to support our DDA and to move forward with the project," said Councilman Doug Mundrick. The motion to allow the developer to proceed without including the church in the project was made by Mundrick and seconded by Bomar.

Councilmen Jim Dugan, Greg Whitlock and Jim Hall also voted in favor of the motion.

"This is in the best interest of Duluth 30 to 50 years down the road," commented Whitlock.

"We need to move forward and have the opportunity," said Dugan. There is no historic significance left to the building, Dugan said. "It is no longer a church and no longer a city hall," he said. The two buildings in question, he added, do not fit in with the period theme of the city's downtown revitalization.

While another developer has come forth with a proposal in the past two weeks that preserves the church, Dugan voiced support for the previously submitted plan and the DDA's efforts over the past two and a half years to promote downtown revitalization.

Mayor Nancy Harris opposed demolishing the old City Hall, but can only vote on issues if there is a tie. "I think it is a city landmark and adds character to our town. I like the way it lines up (across the town green) with the new City Hall...like two arms encircling the city. I'd like to see the development, but I'd like to see it around that building." She stated, however, that she would support the council's decision.