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Great Lakes Article:

Developer proposes Hallett project


A developer from Minneapolis is looking at converting polluted industrial property in West Duluth into upscale housing that would be complemented by ballfields, shops, a restaurant, a marina and perhaps even a golf course.

Well, maybe not the golf course, said some of about 30 neighbors living near Hallett Dock.

The neighbors met Wednesday evening with two representatives of Real Estate Recyclers of Minneapolis. The for-profit development company has been retained by the companies responsible for cleaning up the environmental mess. They've been hired to figure out how best to use the property afterward.

Using conceptual drawings they described as very tentative, the developers showed neighbors a Hallett Dock area filled with single-family homes, townhouses, waterfront eateries, ballfields, soccer fields, a public boat launch and a golf course.

"The concept is people near the waterfront,'' said Brian Sullivan, a landscape architect working for Real Estate Recyclers.

"We want to make sure we enhance the quality of the neighborhood, not detract from it,'' Sullivan said. "We want to give the neighborhood something to make it a better place. This site has a lot of potential. It's just a great place for people.''

There was praise for the plans.

"It was a pleasant surprise to see these guys come here, especially with what they have in mind,'' said Mike Casey, who lives on the St. Louis River's Kingsbury Bay. "Where you live, you don't want some factory. For 25 years, I lived a block from Diamond Tool. No more. I want to see some houses near me. This is perfect.''

The developers' plans contrast sharply with the present Hallett Dock area, now an industrial park with few tenants.

For decades, the river there had been lined with heavy industry that discharged waste directly into the water. Four corporations were tagged to clean up the pollutants, some of which cause cancer.

One of the responsible parties, Beazer East, denied responsibility. XIK Corp., formerly Interlake Corp. of Chicago; Domtar Inc. of Quebec; and Honeywell International Inc. of New Jersey, the successor to AlliedSignal, are now negotiating with citizens and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to determine the best cleanup method.

The responsible parties hired Real Estate Recyclers to determine an industrial reuse for the land once it's cleaned up. That's the firm's strength. For more than six years, it has acquired and developed contaminated industrial land in Milwaukee, Illinois and across Minnesota.

Upon arrival in Duluth, however, Real Estate Recyclers employees didn't see factories at the Hallett Dock site. They took one look at the spectacular views of the river, the wooded Wisconsin shoreline, Spirit Mountain and the Grassy Point Bridge and decided housing and recreation were a better option.

At least one city official doesn't agree.

"The Hallett property is one of the last industrial properties left in Duluth. We're probably going to recommend it stays in the city's industrial inventory,'' said Mike Conlan, the city's director of planning and development.

The city is in the process of completing an inventory of industrial land. Conlan said it should be completed within a few weeks.

"So much of our industrial property is gone,'' Conlan said. "This piece is a pretty key component. Their plans are really premature.''

The responsible parties will likely have to purchase the Hallett Dock property for the cleanup. Duluthian Jerry Fryberger, president of Hallett Dock Co., said late Wednesday the company is more than willing to sell.

"We have always said that Hallett wants to be as accommodating as possible to assist in the cleanup,'' he said. "If they're going to use our property, they'll have to relocate us ... We have mixed emotions about moving.... We're giving up a lot of land if we were to leave.''

According to the developers' plans, they'd buy the land from the responsible parties. The developers would then put in roads and utilities and do other site preparation work. Then they'd sell the land a piece at a time to housing developers, a marina developer and others.

No price tags have been connected to the project.

"We're really early on, but we do have some thoughts,'' developer Paul Hyde said. "In our successful projects, everyone cooperates, it's win-win and the community gets a great asset. This plan is best, long-term, for West Duluth.''

Most neighbors at Wednesday's meeting agreed.

"We're all boat people and we like to be on the river,'' said resident Aurine Casey. "These plans look excellent. I think it's just a great idea.''

"I like the idea of a marina,'' said Marlene Simonson, who lives on Stryker Bay. "And a restaurant would be lovely. It would be kind of fun, taking a pontoon over in there. That would be nice.''

A couple neighbors raised concerns over the golf course idea, citing the recent controversies over a proposed golf course at Spirit Mountain. They also felt the property could be better used for recreation for children and families.

Other concerns were over a foot bridge across Stryker Bay and the possibility that new businesses could negatively compete with existing shops in West Duluth.

"I don't see anything here that will generate jobs or bring money into this neighborhood to keep our kids from leaving town,'' West Duluth resident Jack Paquette said, voicing the only opposition to the project as a whole. "How is this going to benefit this community in the long run? Jobs keep people in the community, not housing.''
News Tribune reporter Chris Havens contributed to this

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