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DULUTH — St. Luke’s recently received the local planning commission’s blessing to proceed with plans to convert a vacant site formerly occupied by the United Baptist Christian Church into a temporary parking lot while the hospital works to replace its current parking ramp with a new larger structure. But the health care provider has much more ambitious plans for the property over the long haul, said Michael Boeselager, St. Luke’s vice president of support services.

He said St. Luke’s will offer a free conveyance of the property to the University of Minnesota if it chooses to establish a presence there.

University of Minnesota officials announced in January they would

request $12 million in state funding to complete pre-design work for a new academic health center facility in Duluth

that could train medical professionals and help meet the growing needs of regional health care providers.

Since then,

the university has been considering different potential sites

in Duluth’s Hillside neighborhood, where the Northland’s two largest industry players — St. Luke’s and Essentia Health — are both making major investments in their respective medical campuses.

Both care providers are attempting to woo the U to their doorsteps with competing proposals. While St. Luke’s hopes the site at 830 E. First St. will prove attractive, Essentia is offering another option.

As Essentia prepares to move into a newly constructed $900,000 facility, it has announced plans to tear down its old hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center, next door. Anthony Matt, a media relations specialist for Essentia, said, “Our hope, as far as the medical school is concerned, would be to entice them to bring that to the site where Essentia-St. Mary’s currently is.”

St. Luke's temporary parking.jpg

Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The temporary lot St. Luke’s aims to create at the corner of East First Street and Ninth Avenue East will accommodate just 32 vehicles, but it sits adjacent to additional property the hospital also is using for surface parking. Boeselager said arrangements have been made for other surface parking in the area to meet St. Luke’s interim needs while the hospital ramp is being replaced.

St. Luke’s plans to begin demolition of its existing 263-stall parking ramp next year and work as quickly as it can to build a replacement, likely by 2024, pending necessary approvals for the proposed 440-stall structure, Boeselager said.

“The goal is really to reduce surface parking, create more of a parking ramp facility,” he said, explaining that the new structure would occupy the same footprint as its predecessor but would stand one level higher, making use of a more efficient design to maximize capacity.

 The St. Luke's - Northland Ramp in the distance

The St. Luke’s Northland Ramp at 1000 E. First St. in Duluth seen in the distance from Second Street on Saturday.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

The interim-use permit the Duluth Planning Commission granted for the temporary parking lot will expire in one year’s time, meaning that St. Luke’s will need annual approvals to extend its life. City Planner Steven Robertson said the relatively short term of the permit and the burden of repeated renewals creates an additional incentive for St. Luke’s to see the property put to more productive use in the near future.

Yet, even under the most optimistic of timelines, the new U of M academic health center in Duluth would be constructed no sooner than 2025.

Regardless of what university officials decide, Boeselager predicts there will be interest in the site, located across the street from the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum and just north of the Kitchi Gammi Club.

“We’re offering to give that to the university to relocate the medical school. But if that doesn’t come to fruition, then we think we have other opportunities for development, because we think that spot wants to be something other than a parking lot.”

Robertson suggested housing as another option, given the growing staff needs of Duluth’s medical providers.

The St. Luke's - Northland Ramp in Duluth

St. Luke’s is looking to tear down the 263-stall Northland Ramp next year and replace it with a new 440-stall parking structure.

Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune