|By Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune,
Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 14, 2011--A marina owner is moving forward with his plans to build a nine-story, 90-room hotel on Park Point.
Construction could start in August, said Joel Johnson, owner of Lakehead Boat Basin, where the hotel will be built.
"We will work all winter long and open by May 1," he said.
The Duluth Planning Commission in a 7-1 vote this week approved the
$22 million development at 1000 Minnesota Ave., which also had the blessings of the City Planning Division.
With no zoning or code changes sought, the project doesn't need Duluth City Council approval.
But among its dissenters is Mayor Don Ness.
"It's important that a project of this sort fit in the neighborhood," Ness said. "Clearly, building a structure of that size and scope in that neighborhood is not a good fit. I don't have any problems with a hotel on the site or a new development there. It just needs to be responsible and respectful of its surroundings. A nine-story building would stick out like a sore thumb on that site."
The hotel -- to be called Park Pointe Inn at Lakehead Boat Basin -- will be operated by Morrissey Hospitality, whose other hotels include the upscale St. Paul Hotel. The new Park Point hotel will have reception and office areas, a breakfast area, pool and a small convenience store open to the public. At 154 feet wide by 65 feet deep, it will be nearly 87,000 square feet. Perched by the 120-slip marina, its clientele will include boaters visiting Duluth.
The hotel has been Johnson's dream since he was a teenager in 1968 and saw a hotel in Norfolk, Va., with a marina in front.
"That's what Duluth needs, something on the waterfront to attract people," Johnson said he thought at the time.
His will be the first large-scale hotel/marina in Duluth. The Waterfront Plaza in Canal Park has room for about 15 boats to dock behind it.
Architectural plans for Johnson's project were submitted to the city June 1, replacing an earlier, foiled plan for a four-story, $7.5 million, 53-room hotel between Lake and Minnesota avenues. That was blocked in January when the City Council changed the zoning on part of Johnson's property to residential.
His current plan, on a smaller footprint by the marina, is bigger and more expensive.
"In order to do a project you need to get a return on it," said Johnson, who has a team of partners in the project. "You need 'x' amount of rooms to pay for it. The footprint we can build on was small. We had to (build) up to pay for it. And when you go up, it costs more."
Nearby residents have expressed concerns about traffic and congestion, emergency response and whether there would be sufficient parking.
But most have opposed the sheer size of the structure on the freshwater sandbar and in their older residential neighborhood.
Jeff Stuermer, who lives 300 feet from the project, said most of his neighbors are in the same camp.
"None of us thinks it's a good idea, but we were resigned to the fact that this is going to happen," he said. "The biggest thing we're upset about is the height of the hotel -- 118 feet is just shocking."
Said neighbor Kevin Kelleher: "Think of it, a nine-story building a block away from your house."
But it's more than that, Kelleher said.
"As a longtime Duluthian, how can you not be opposed to such a radical change to Park Point?" he said. "It's not the business, it's not the project, it's the scale of the project, and it's lack of fit for the location."
But the project complies with the City's Uniform Development Code, up to the 120-foot height limit for Park Point structures. And that's why the commission approved the plan, said member Heather Rand. She noted that the commission required the hotel be positioned so that the view of those driving by is obstructed as little as possible.
Moreover, the project is an opportunity for Duluth to tap into marina traffic it's been missing and helps marina operators stay in business, she said.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Duluth News Tribune, Minn.
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