Residents Express Concern on Essentia's Property Purchases Near Medical Campus

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: October 02, 2019 09:59 AM

Essentia Health purchased several properties near its downtown Duluth medical campus that will be used to potentially build a new parking ramp that will link to the Vision Northland building that's currently under construction.


The five buildings purchased by Essentia are located on the 300 block of East First Street. They include two duplexes, one triplex, and two small apartment buildings. They have 19 units total. Some are rental properties and some are private residences.

The properties are close to Essentia's replacement hospital tower and clinic, which Mark Hayward, Essentia Health's senior vice president for operations, said is a "strategic investment" in Essentia’s downtown neighborhood.

Although it seems like a strategic investment to Essentia, it isn't strategic for the residents on the 300 block of East First Street.

"About a week ago some lawyers came by and said they were going to be purchasing the property and yesterday I got a notice that I got a new apartment manager," said Chris Forte, a tenant of a duplex purchased by Essentia.

The management company taking over is Messina.  They sent a letter to residents saying they are taking over management of the properties as of Sept. 30. 

Hayward said Essentia is working on helping relocate residents of those buildings. It's news residents who live on the block haven't been happy with.

"For 10 years I lived here. It was my college apartment. I like the place. The rent is good and it's an affordable, good location. I don't mind the neighborhood and I really don't want to move," said Forte.

"I'm so sad and so confused. It has caused a lot of unneeded stress and anxiety," said Debra Robnic, a tenant of a duplex Essentia purchased.

Robnic has lived in her duplex for four years and said she wasn't planning on moving anytime soon.

"I can't afford to have a move in company come here, I have a house full of furniture. I live alone and I have no one to help me," said Robnic.

Essentia has plans to demolish its blue parking ramp this month, which offers 483 spots, to build the new hospital and clinic. This is why a new parking ramp is needed, to offer access to the new facility for patients, visitors and staff.

Hayward said the plans for what will happen to those properties aren't finalized yet.

"We haven't given any specific timeline for any need to relocate. We have a new property manager who will manage those properties until a final plan is developed," said Hayward.

Residents said they are upset and hope they get more answers soon on what the future will hold for them.

"I want to find out really what is Northland Vision because obviously people who live here aren't part of the Northland vision," said Robnic.

Hayward said they'll work with Duluth Mayor Emily Larson's Affordable Housing Task Force to make this a smooth and fair process for everyone.

"I think the concern is about affordable housing availability and the impact this would have. We look forward to working with the task force and the recommendations of the task force and being active in supporting those. As Essentia Health, we support affordable housing in many different ways each year," said Hayward.

Last May, the Minnesota Legislature approved a public infrastructure funding package that included a parking ramp on the west end of the new Medical District. Essentia said it has been working with the City of Duluth to develop a plan for the ramp, which could potentially serve the nearby Arts and Theater District and downtown Duluth.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the city on solutions that meet the many needs of the community and Essentia Health,” Hayward said.

Essentia Health is hosting a Vision Northland community meeting on Oct. 3 at the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center. Residents affected by the recent Essentia property purchases plan on attending the meeting.

Two meetings are scheduled at 12:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and will serve as a progress report on Essentia’s $800 million construction project.


Alejandra Palacios

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