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Pier B Resort targets June opening date

Sandy Hoff (left) and Alex Giuliani, the developers behind the Pier B Resort on downtown Duluth’s western waterfront, stand in a fourth-floor guest room that provides a striking view of the Aerial Lift Bridge and Bayfront Festival Park’s stage. (Steve Kuchera / / 8
Pier B Resort, as seen from Bayfront Festival Park last week, has windows and the exterior brick and stonework installed on the upper floors of one wing. Under the protection of a plastic shelter, workers put brick on the exterior of another wing. (Steve Kuchera / / 8
A rendering of the Pier B Resort provides this perspective from Canal Park. The resort will include a hotel, restaurant and lounge, banquet hall, indoor pool and a marina for guests who arrive by boat. A sliding bridge will connect the site to Bayfront Festival Park. (Image courtesy of Sandy Hoff)3 / 8
The main entrance side of the Pier B Resort will face the west and is visible to motorists traveling north on Interstate 35. (Steve Kuchera / 4 / 8
The front entrance of Pier B Resort will be accessible to those driving in from Railroad Street, while the resort’s recreational features will be focused on the other side. (Rendering courtesy of Sandy Hoff)5 / 8
Workers from Aqua Logic in Waconia, Minn., install the concrete floor of the indoor pool at Pier B Resort. (Steve Kuchera / / 8
Sandy Hoff leads a tour on the first floor of the under-construction Pier B Resort. (Steve Kuchera / 7 / 8
The geometric lines of the overhead wood beams planned for Pier B’s Silo Restaurant will provide a modern flavor while paying tribute to the warehouses that once stood at the site. (Rendering courtesy of DSGW Architects)8 / 8

While the new Maurices building has gotten plenty of oohs and aahs and the Duluth Transportation Center nears its grand opening, Pier B Resort has been quietly taking shape along downtown’s western waterfront.

Well, not so quietly anymore.

The four-story marina hotel — with its exterior and interior work underway — has started to turn the heads of motorists along Interstate 35. And that interest is only going to increase as the $30 million structure on the site of the former Lafarge cement terminal is finished in the next four months.

That’s the goal with a June opening targeted.

Sitting near the water’s edge, Pier B Resort will have 140 rooms, a restaurant and lounge, and banquet room. It will have its own marina for guests, with a sand beach, a sliding bridge to Bayfront Festival Park and plenty of patios, decks and outdoor seating, including a large rooftop patio above the first-floor swimming pool.

A heated walkway will lead from the pool to an outdoor hot tub. At night people can gather around gas fire pits outside or at a larger, wood-burning one closer to the water.

“Boats come within 200 feet so it’s going to be spectacular,” said Alex Giuliani, one of the project’s developers.

With the targeted opening in June, reservations started being taken in October. But just in case there are delays, deposits aren’t being taken for the June bookings.

“It’s becoming a hot ticket, actually,” Giuliani said. “We have a good response for banquets and weddings. The manager is working on more than 30 events in the first two years.”

With a bent shape embracing the front entrance, the 85,000-square-foot hotel is

positioned to give people inside optimal views of the Aerial Lift Bridge, Bayfront Festival Park and the harbor. Walk in the front entrance and the opposite windows in the restaurant perfectly frame the Aerial Lift Bridge.

To ensure a clear view, a glass wall will separate the lobby area from the restaurant and lounge.

The complex is next to a group of 100-foot concrete silos that the developers still hope to convert into condominiums, retail space or some other use in a second phase of the project.

The design of the upscale hotel is rooted in the site’s industrial/waterfront roots. Brick masonry, stonework, large timbers and steel beams are being used on the exterior to capture the essence of the buildings that were historically there, including warehouses and cement facilities. That flavor will be carried over inside with the use of bricks, timber, stone and concrete.

Sandy Hoff, the project’s other developer, calls it “rustic elegance” because it will be contemporary and upscale at the same time.

“A lot of what we’re doing here is paying tribute to the working waterfront,” he said.

A group meeting room, for example, will have a pressed-tin tile ceiling reminiscent of a century ago. And its concrete walls have been created in the same way the silos were, with poured concrete shaped with rough-sawn pine boards, he said.

Giuliani, who was behind the Clyde Iron development, and Hoff, president of F.I. Salter, are the principal partners in Pier B Holding LLC. The project also is backed by about a dozen local private investors.

Built to last

Work began on the 7.4-acre site last spring with site cleanup, stabilizing the failing seawalls and putting in sewers and other infrastructure. The structure rose on steel pilings over the summer and fall.

By late November, the shell of the steel and concrete structure was complete, and work on the inside began. The interior framework and utilities are now in. Ductwork is underway. Interior walls and electrical wiring are being installed. Windows are going in on the Bayfront Park side, as well as the exterior stone and brick facade.

In the next couple of months, finishing work will get underway in earnest for the 140 rooms, the Silo Restaurant that will seat 150 people and the banquet room that will accommodate at least 200 people.

For lead contractor Johnson Wilson Constructors, the project’s construction on a strip of land between two slips has presented extra challenges.

“It’s close to the water, so it’s somewhat restricted,” said Charlie Sundberg, job superintendent for Johnson Wilson. “It doesn’t have the access all around.”

And because of fierce winds off Lake Superior, the building is being constructed to withstand the elements, with masonry and concrete planks on thick steel pilings. The building will be well insulated, with triple-glazed windows and the entire exterior weather-sealed, he said.

Dreaming big

For Giuliani and Hoff, Pier B Resort is the realization of a vision that began more than seven years ago with grandiose ideas for the site.

Early plans included a nine-story hotel and event center, luxury condominiums, underwater parking, an arboretum and a 30,000-square-foot retail center with a rotunda where a restored 42-foot Leif Erikson Viking ship replica could be displayed suspended from the ceiling. Initial cost estimates were for a $50 million to $75 million project.

But back in 2010, Hoff said they were looking for something remarkable for the site that would include those distinctive silos.

“We brainstormed on what could be,” Hoff said last week. “If we dream it, it can happen. It’s such a unique structure, sitting just 10 feet from the water with huge opportunities.”

Over time, the project was downsized to a $29.1 million four-story hotel resort with a marina and recreational offerings. A conversion of the silos into hotel rooms or other use was deferred. The reasons for the reduced plans were site limitations, lenders’ conservative leanings after the recession and the city’s adoption of a uniform development code that limited height for new buildings on the site to 60 feet.

Then there’s the parking.

“Parking is an issue,” Hoff said. “We have to make sure we can provide it.”

To become reality, the project has involved a complicated combination of financing and assistance from the city and state, as well as a group of private investors.

Pier B Holding LLC bought half of the Pier B property from Lafarge North America for $1.325 million in 2009. It purchased the other 3.7 acres from the Duluth Economic Development Authority in 2014 for $650,000. The sale came after the limited liability company’s option to buy was extended five times from 2010 to 2014.

DEDA also approved a tax-increment financing package that is expected to generate $8 million over 25 years. Dougherty Funding LLC based in Minneapolis provided about $18.5 million in construction financing.

And the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development awarded the project two grants. The project received $968,000 to help cover redevelopment costs and $999,000 to help pay for the cleanup of contaminated soil, stemming from the site’s previous uses.

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