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Our community's greatest challenge

At a recent Greater Downtown Council gathering, I had the opportunity and honor to share my optimism for Duluth with an audience of 60 community leaders. Apparently I was being too effusive regarding the many reasons to celebrate the exciting things occurring within our beloved community.

Evidently, my boosterish remarks were expected and too pedestrian. The event moderator, my friend and colleague Steve Greenfield, had heard enough of my shameless promotion of Duluth. He adroitly transitioned the conversation by challenging me to share with the audience — in one word — what I believed to be the greatest challenge confronting our community.

I quickly and emphatically answered, "Housing."

Our community's lack of adequate housing is our most pressing challenge. In recent years, Duluth has enjoyed significant job growth in various employment sectors. There are over 1,000 unfilled job openings that, if filled, would amplify our community's growth and prosperity.

There is a distinct correlation between the inability of local employers to fill vacant job openings and our community's lack of available housing options. The largest impediment for prospective employees and potential Duluthians is the lack of housing choices. Our beloved city's aging housing stock is no longer adequate to meet the housing needs of this expanding influx of new residents.

Last year, the city produced its first comprehensive Duluth Housing Action Plan. The plan illustrated there is a need for an additional 4,500 housing units to be built over the next six years to accommodate anticipated population growth related to an increase in employment opportunities. This will require building a staggering number of 750 homes each year. This goal is even more ambitious when you realize there have been many years in Duluth where the number of housing units built totaled fewer than 50.

Yet, there is reason for optimism even within this most expansive housing challenge. The Duluth Area Chamber has embraced a partnership role in coordinating a focused community effort to address the need for additional housing. We are engaging our 1,100 members in generating housing solutions. Mayor Ness and his leadership team at City Hall have boldly and impressively led our community's effort to encourage housing developers to invest in Duluth. These efforts are beginning to be rewarded.

Developer Sherman Associates is completing the Lincoln Park Commons, which includes 50 housing units. Several local organizations recently collaborated to develop and open the Steve O'Neil Apartments, which included 50 apartments.

Recently, we learned that a 148-unit housing development called Harbor Bay Flats will be built on the corner of 21st Avenue East and London Road. The developer anticipates investing $36 million in the Harbor Bay Flats.

A few weeks ago, we learned that BlueStone Flats will be built adjacent the BlueStone Lofts housing complex. It will include an additional 143 housing units. This will be an investment of $25 million.

Last week, United Properties announced they will build Kenwood Village at the intersection of Kenwood Avenue and Arrowhead Road. The development will include 85 apartments.

Additionally, it appears the Morgan Park Middle School and the Rockridge School are being sold. The buyer is considering building 300-400 housing units on the 10-acre Morgan Park site. The buyer also hopes to build 30 housing units in and around the Rockridge building. It is also exciting to see homes being built in the Hawk Ridge neighborhood. These are just a few of the housing projects that are being considered by several housing developers.

It appears our community is on the cusp of a housing renaissance. It is a much-needed and much planned-for renaissance. Savvy housing developers are increasingly motivated by this critical need for housing. They are responding to this need with plans to invest in our beloved community.

Work is underway to transform our community's greatest challenge into what may prove to be one of our community's greatest accomplishments. The Chamber is proud to advocate for this needed transformation.

David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 740-3751 or dross@duluthchamber.com.

David Ross

David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 740-3751.

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