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Duluth ‘brownfield’ developments draw praise

Alex Giuliani (left) and Sandy Hoff just received a state ReScape Award from Minnesota Brownfields for their redevelopment of the former LeFarge cement terminal property where Pier B resort now sits. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Two Duluth projects that returned long-neglected industrial sites to productive use were recently singled out for statewide recognition by Minnesota Brownfields, an organization that specializes in encouraging such work.

The Pier B Resort earned the group’s ReScape Award, and Clyde Iron Works received the People’s Choice Award earlier this month

Heidi Timm-Bijold, business resources manager for the city of Duluth, said she considers the two awards nothing short of “spectacular,” noting that developer Alex Giuliani was “the common denominator in both projects.”

“These types of projects aren’t easy to do, especially taking brownfield sites, as we did on both of these, and being able to get together all the different pieces to make them happen,” Giuliani said.

“One entity can’t do it. It takes a lot of coordination,” he said.

Giuliani noted that redeveloping the former Clyde Iron manufacturing complex in Lincoln Park and the site of the former Lafarge cement terminal on Duluth’s downtown waterfront was only possible with help from the Duluth Economic Development Authority, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

He credits Timm-Bijold for helping him to navigate those many organizations..

Sandy Hoff, Giuliani’s partner in the Pier B development, agreed that outside help was essential and pointed to a $995,000 DEED grant that was used to clean up contamination at the Lafarge property and a neighboring parcel.

In addition to Timm-Bijold, Hoff praised two local engineering firms — Barr and AMI — for helping both to land grant monies and then implement effective remediation programs.  

Eric Dott, Barr’s vice president and senior hydrogeologist, said the Pier B project was challenging because of the high water table, the contamination on the site, inconsistent soils, unstable seawalls, cribbing and a slip that contained polluted sediments. He explained that combination of factors made it necessary to obtain assistance, and Timm-Bijold played a vital role.

“The city has gotten to be a real master at bringing all of those pieces together to make a package that will help a project move forward,” Dott said.

Hoff described redeveloping the Pier B property as a daunting process.

“In terms of brownfield contamination and redevelopment sites, this was one of the more challenging ones, not because there was a huge amount of contamination… but because it’s a pre-engineered structure completely over the water,” he said.

“We had to stabilize the site so that the contaminated soils that were there wouldn’t continue to slide into the water,” Hoff said.

All told, Hoff figures he, Giuliani and other local investors who they enlisted ended up sinking about $30 million into the redevelopment of the site and the construction of the 140-room Pier B Resort and restaurant.

At the Clyde Iron site, Giuliani estimates that between Clyde Iron Works, the Duluth Heritage Sports Center and the Duluth Children’s Museum, about $24 million has been invested to date.

“It was a very contaminated and blighted area, but good things can come from out of the ashes,” he said.

Dott said it takes folks like Hoff and Giuliani to make things happen on challenging sites.

“It’s a rare breed of developers who are willing to take on these kinds of complicated projects,” he noted.

Giuliani said former industrial sites often are left neglected for good reason.

“Sometimes people can’t see through the blight,” he said.

Timm-Bijold said brownfield redevelopment often proves to be an exercise in problem solving.

“None of these projects is predictable,” she said. “Projects are going to take a turn that we didn’t anticipate.”

Reflecting on the challenge of redeveloping such properties, Giuliani said: “It takes a lot of vision and a lot of persistence.”

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