Downtown housing study shows the market potential to developers, city leaders

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With about 20% of office space vacant now due to the pandemic, the city of Duluth was interested in finding a way to utilize it. Specifically, how can unused real estate be converted into housing.

Zimmerman/Volk Associates conducted a study about the feasibility of doing just that.

It shows about 2000 households could move into the study area, and that rentals are the most feasible option.

The study was a recommendation of the mayor’s Downtown Task Force.

On Tuesday, Laurie Volk presented the findings to a group of stakeholders. “The most successful downtowns are the result of public sector and private sector working together, not against each other,” she said. “The challenges in Duluth are similar to other downtowns. And you have spectacular views here, that are irreplaceable.”

Some ideas that have worked in other places includes addressing regulatory obstacles by creating an adaptive-use handbook, for example.

A gap financing pool is also important, she said.

Or a Live Where You Work program, which helps people with rent who live downtown near their employment.

Volk said that the Board of Trade apartment project is a good example of a successful adaptive use project.

Mayor Emily Larson said she’s pleased with the data, and they have been sharing it already.

She added that they have a Housing Trust Fund that has been helping developers work on projects as well.

To view the report: