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Essentia Health Fitness Center to Move into Miller Hill Mall

Updated: February 12, 2019 06:52 PM

Essentia Health has announced they plan to move their Fitness and Therapy Center into the first floor of the Miller Hill Mall this fall.

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Tuesday's announcement comes a day after Essentia confirmed it had purchased the former Younkers store in the mall.  Essentia says they plan to invest $15 million in the purchase and remodeling of the 145,000-square-foot department store.

"We thought for our members it was economical, it was a good spot to land," said Essentia Health Vice President for Operations Mark Hayward.

Essentia says the new fitness center will fill half of Younkers first floor, but plans are still being developed for the rest of the building. 

The fitness center will offer a larger exercise area, more equipment, and larger locker rooms.

Hayward says they had planned to relocate the fitness center all along, and had looked at a number of options over the past couple of months.

"For us it's a chance to update the facility, and to really create a new facilty that's got higher ceilings, new spaces, larger spaces, easy drop off, easy parking, convenient access to the community," said Hayward.

“Essentia Health saw an opportunity to contribute to the redevelopment and vibrancy of the Miller Hill Mall,” said Brad Beard, chief operating officer of Essentia Health’s East Market, in a news release. “Essentia Health is always looking for locations to better serve our patients and employees. As we grow, we need affordable space that helps reduce the cost of care to our patients.”

The move will also allow Essentia to expand their therapy services as they have an extra 7,000 square feet to work with.

"We're excited for our patients who will receive care there, we're excited for our staff who will work there, excited for our membership in the fitness center, we think this is a great solution," said Hayward.

Hayward believes it will be beneficial for both Essentia and the mall.

"I think it will be synergistic with what's happening at the mall. Patients and members who come there will have easy access to the mall, whether that's to walk through the mall, or to be patrons of the mall, and I think the synergy will be there. Bring more people to that space," said Hayward. 

Essentia said that one benefit is acres of free parking, and that "moving some patients and staff to the mall will open more parking spots in downtown Duluth." 

Minnesota Department of Revenue records list the sale price of Younkers as $3.2 million, which is less than the estimated market value of $4.2 million listed on county tax records.

The Younkers store closed late last summer after its parent company, Bon-Ton, went bankrupt.  The parcel includes the store and parts of the parking lot south and west of the store, as well as undeveloped land along Decker Road.

The property is held separately from the main part of the Miller Hill Mall, which is owned by Simon Property Group.

"We are delighted that Essentia Health will have a presence at Miller Hill Mall," a mall representative said Monday. "The combination of two important community assets, Essentia Health and Miller Hill Mall, seems natural and will serve to benefit not only the mall but all of Duluth."

The former Sears store at the mall closed around the same time.  No buyer has been announced for the Sears property, which is also held separately from the main mall.

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