Former Franklin Foods facility in Lincoln Park sold, eyed for possible hotel or apartment development

Property on the 1900 block of West First Street that once served as a milk processing facility could soon be redeveloped. It shares an alley with popular new enterprises in the Lincoln Park Craft District such as Flora North, Hemlock Leatherworks, Duluth Folk School, OMC Smokehouse, the Noble Pour and Duluth Tap Exchange.

A national hotel and apartment builder has purchased a large, blighted property inside the trendy, fast-growing Lincoln Park Craft District.

Northridge Accommodations LLC purchased the former Kemps dairy at 1928 W. First St. on Dec. 30. According to Minnesota Department of Revenue records, Franklin Foods sold the property — advertised as the largest contiguous site available in Lincoln Park — for $450,000.

Northridge President and CEO Jon Miskavige said the Grand Forks, N.D. company plans to clear the site, remove contaminated soils and build a $15 to $25 million hotel or apartment project in Lincoln Park.

New restaurants, shops and craft breweries have revitalized Lincoln Park in the past three years. The Northridge project is located behind OMC Smokehouse and the Duluth Folk School, two of many small businesses that opened in neglected West Superior Street buildings since 2017.

“I think (Lincoln Park) is amazing,” said Miskavige. “It’s a boutiquey, walkable neighborhood. I think that’s why we own the best site in Lincoln Park. Walkability is what matters to tenants. When you look at a coffee shop, a yoga studio — all of the small attributes of a micro-downtown it’s amazing.”

Northridge built the 250,000-square-foot Endi luxury apartment and retail complex on London Road in 2016. It also built the Tru by Hilton hotel which opened on Central Entrance last August. The company has developed properties all over the country including Phoenix, Denver and Kansas City.

The 1.2-acre Kemps dairy property at 1928 W. First St. has been purchased by a national hotel and apartment builder. Kemps ended its dairy operations on the site in 2013. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

Miskavige said Northridge is exploring options for the 1.2-acre Lincoln Park site. Plans include either a 100-room hotel or a 100- to 150-unit apartment building, which could have both market-rate and affordable housing within it. The site will need city of Duluth rezoning and an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup, he said.

Property clearing and cleanup could begin as early as this summer, however, 2021 construction season work is more likely.

“Lincoln Park is a hell of an opportunity,” he said. “Every development that’s going on in there is exciting. It’s a new catalyst for Duluth as far as a touristy area too.”

Duluth Grill owner Tom Hanson, who owns and operates four Lincoln Park establishments including OMC Smokehouse, said neighborhood developments are getting bigger. He expected the Kemps property would attract an apartment developer but he never thought a national hotel chain would be interested in Lincoln Park so soon. He said national developers and large hospitality and retail chains are typically the last to enter new and rebuilding markets.

“When you think about how all of this has happened in three years, it’s not even comprehensible,” he said. “The city didn’t even have any kind of engineering or thoughts on city planning for the neighborhood. It just has grown organically.”

The former Kemps dairy property is currently used for parking by patrons of West Superior Street businesses in the Lincoln Park Craft District. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

The Kemps site sits just off a Highway 53 viaduct exit ramp, a typical location for hotels.

Hanson said he was excited about the prospect of a hotel and the visitors it would bring to his restaurants and bars. “Hotels next to restaurants are good for the hotel and good for the restaurant,” he said. “But I think if it were apartments I’d be just as excited.”

Hanson said a hotel or apartment project would bring hundreds of construction jobs to Duluth and support other private and municipal jobs upon opening. A 100-room hotel would employ about 25 people.

“Overall I like to see the refurbishing of these old buildings,” said Hanson. “They’ve been left for just complete decay.”

St. Louis County property records show the building at 1928 W. First St. was constructed in 1914. It was part of a collection of commercial buildings on the street in the late 1920s. Businesses included the Duluth Cycle Club, shoe and bicycle repair shops, a plumber and the Svea and Nora hotels. In 1938, the block was redeveloped and became home to the Twin Ports Co-op Dairy. The site operated as a dairy for the next 75 years until Kemps ended its Duluth milk processing in 2013.

1 Comment

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

In a follow up the Duluth News Tribune reports that Northridge Accommodations Chief Operating Officer Ryan Carlson said the project will result in 100 market-rate apartments with first-floor businesses. He estimated development cost at $15-20 million.

Duluth News Tribune: "New development in Lincoln Park expected to include 100 apartments"

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