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New housing coming to Duluth's Smithville neighborhood

Rents for the nine townhomes at Grand Avenue Estates are set to range from $1,795 to $1,945. Rendering Courtesy Kuepers Inc.1 / 3
Grand Avenue Estates in Smithville is aiming for a November opening. Rendering courtesy of Kuepers Inc.2 / 3
Grand Avenue Estates, a $10 million housing development in Smithville at Grand and Zimmerly avenues, will feature two 28-unit apartment buildings and nine townhomes for rent. Rendering courtesy of Kuepers Inc.3 / 3

A $10 million housing development is coming soon to Smithville, spurred on by a recent $650,000 grant from the state.

Grand Avenue Estates will be home to two apartment complexes and nine townhomes, together offering 67 market-rate rental units east of Grand at Zimmerly Avenue.

"That's a significant project, especially in a corridor that's getting a lot of investment," Mayor Emily Larson said in an interview Wednesday.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development chipped in $654,000 for cleanup after unexpected contamination was discovered at the site. With the money, the Grand Avenue Estates project can stay on course to open around November.

Brainerd-based construction firm Kuepers Inc. discovered diesel, PCBs, asbestos and lead in the soil stemming from the Westinghouse Building and an auto repair business that previously lived at the brownfield site.

"The city and (Duluth Economic Development Authority) really went to bat for us on this, and I know it's part of the mayor's hallmark issue with housing and wanting to create a private-public partnership to create workforce housing," said Chris Raimann, architect for Kuepers and a representative of the property's ownership.

The city applied for the money on behalf of the developer, which is providing at least a 25 percent match, and no other public funds were used.

"Without this help, we would've had to reduce the scope significantly on the project or increase projected rental rates," Raimann said.

Rents are to start at $975 for a one-bedroom unit on up to $1,475 for three-bedroom apartments. Townhome rent ranges from $1,795 to $1,945.

While the development will eat into a forested area, 11.6 acres of the 18-acre property will be undeveloped and set aside for conservation.

Larson said the project helps fill needed housing gaps, as shown in the 2014 report listing a shortage of 4,400 units of "workforce housing," those units that are affordable for households around the median income.

"We're hearing time and again people want to stay in their neighborhood," she said. "What we need is that portfolio of choices."

Grand Avenue Estates is just down the road from the planned Kayak Bay development near Riverside, which still is in its early stages.

The property has been owned for more than 10 years and went through several design changes, Raimann said. Renderings show a modern apartment and townhome design with red and grey accent colors and a parking and garage area away from the street.

"We want nice, attractive housing with affordable prices," Raimann said.

The DEED grant that helped cover contamination costs has been used in other projects in Duluth, notably nearly $1 million for the Dock C & D project at the port and $1 million for Pier B in recent years as well as $1.4 million for the Heritage Sports Center a decade ago.

This year's grant money totaled $5.7 million for projects across the state and includes projects in Two Harbors and Silver Bay as well.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks covers business and the economy for the Duluth News Tribune.

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