A small, stylish boutique hotel that opened in a renovated historic building and helped transform Lincoln Park into a hip, trendy neighborhood is now for sale.
The three-suite, second-floor Hotel Pikku, 1923 W. Superior St., opened after owners Chelsy Whittington and Andy Matson purchased the building in 2016 and spent more than a year remodeling it. Hemlock Leatherworks, a custom shoemaker, is located on the ground floor.
The 123-year-old, 3,750-square-foot property is listed for sale at $895,000.
Lincoln Park was in the early days of an urban renewal surge when Whittington and Matson purchased the fire-damaged, storefront and apartment property for $125,000. The building received new flooring, bathrooms, windows, a hot water heater, air-conditioning and a large metal back staircase as part of a major remodel. Neighboring OMC Smokehouse, Duluth Folk School and Duluth Pottery were all opening in old, remodeled buildings around the same time.
In the five-year span, Lincoln Park has gone from a struggling furniture store district filled with blighted buildings to a destination neighborhood featuring new breweries, art galleries, antique shops and restaurants.
“I think all the businesses are filled up,” said Whittington. “Before there was just a lot of empty storefronts and stuff. It was exciting. Also living nearby it was great to have all these places I could just walk to now.”
The Hotel Pikku has been a hit with tourists. Rooms are filled most weekends and guests respond with glowing reviews on social media sites.
“We’ve been as busy as we want to be down there,” said Whittington. “I feel really lucky that I got to build something on that scale and on the terms that I wanted to. I’m the house cleaner. I do all the admin work, it’s all me — which is a little Type A — but it’s been really nice to get the people that we get down there. We have so many return guests.”
Whittington said she will turn her attention to Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River, a candy store owned by the Matson family. “I’m going to do more with that,” she said. “And then, you know, we’re always scheming new projects — it’s usually happy hour scheming — but there might be some other stuff down the line.”
“I love doing my time with the hotel but, you know, I’m not really that working-30-years-to-get-that-gold watch kind of person. I want to be growing and doing new things,” she said.
The Hotel Pikku (a Finnish word meaning small) will remain in operation while the building is for sale.
Real estate agent Greg Follmer said new building owners could continue to use the second floor as a boutique hotel, rent the rooms as apartments or turn the space into personal living quarters. He said the street-level storefront offers great opportunities for a new business now and in the future.
“Ultimately, I’m looking for a small business owner that would receive some supplemental income from the hotel,” he said. “They also might want to operate their business in the building and walk down the line 15 years from now, and you look at the future and you got a pretty nice spot. You’ve got a nice retirement.”
Follmer said the Lincoln Park real estate market is hot right now. Older buildings in good locations are hard to find and complicated and expensive to restore. The Hotel Pikku building is a finished product: “There’s a lot of things that you don’t have to do or deal with that are already done,” he said. “They went very high quality with everything. They did some really nice, unique design features in there. It’s a very cool space.”
The sale announcement coincided with demolition work on the former Kemps dairy building, 1928 W. First St., immediately behind the Hotel Pikku. Whittington said she closed the hotel to reservations during the demolition work.
A cluster of one-level brick buildings, many dating back to Twin Ports Dairy Co-op construction in 1938, were demolished with a backhoe and hauled away during the first week in April.
Northridge Accomodations LLC announced plans to build a $15 to $25 million hotel or apartment project on the 1.2-acre site in January 2020. Kemps ended its dairy processing in 2013. Lincoln Park businesses and their patrons have used the property as a parking lot in recent years.
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