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Condos create controversy on peaceful Park Point peninsula

By CORY BELLAMY
DCN Correspondent

If you’ve visited Duluth’s famous Park Point neighborhood in the past year, you’ve probably noticed a large, fancy white building sandwiched among all of the more traditionally styled homes. This giant complex, known as South Pier Shores, has stirred up controversy and piqued the curiosity of many residents throughout Duluth and Park Point. Not only that, this development seems to be part of a trend happening across the community, perhaps altering the feel of old-fashioned Duluth.

South Pier shores is a string of eight beachfront luxury condominiums, some of which are still up for sale. Living spaces range from 2,400 square feet to over 3,100 square feet, according to the company’s Web site. South Pier Shores was developed by the Sola family, who have lived on Park Point for three generations. Dale Sola and his sons Steve and Rand, as well as Steve’s wife Carrie Sola, are all considered to be co-developers of the project.

According to Rand Sola, construction began in November of 2007. Sola said the family had to buy several rental units and tear them down to begin building. Four adjacent duplexes on the current site, as well as three more on the opposite side of the street, were purchased and removed.

Rand Sola said the decision to explore the potential to build a condominium complex came after the success of the South Pier Inn, a nearby hotel also owned by the family.

“[The South Pier Inn] was a successful business. We had our eyes on the property for a while. It’s the only beachfront parcel zoned for multi-family units or townhomes,? Sola said.

The construction of South Pier Shores has been received in many different ways by Park Point residents. Several residents declined to comment on the building and its effect on the neighborhood.

Dave Johnson, who lives just over one mile from the condos, has mixed feelings about South Pier Shores.

“I think everybody on Park Point is affected by these condos because we’re taxed on the value of properties around us. Obviously these condos are very valuable,? Johnson said. “I’ve heard some people call the building ‘The Berlin Wall,’ but I think some people’s anger was tempered because [the Sola family] are life-long Park Pointers. Plus it’s not like we lost any pretty or historic structures.?

Brady Schwartz, 22, lives across the street from the complex with his parents. He believes the majority of the neighborhood was against such an expensive project.

“Just about everybody I talked to was not in favor of them. They don’t really fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. Nothing against the developers, they’re nice people and they do what they can to make money,? Schwartz said. He added that he knows property taxes have increased across the area, but is not sure by how much.

Schwartz and Johnson both agreed that there is no viable solution for those opposing the condos, since the building sits on private property and has already been constructed.

Luxury condos are beginning to become an increasingly popular build in the Duluth area. Beacon Pointe Condos, a complex similar to South Pier Shores, is located on the Lakewalk at 2100 Water Street and was completed in 2007. The building was the main issue at several city council meetings a year ago due to its potential interference with a Lakewalk extension.

Adam Bersell, another resident of Park Point, thinks that condominium construction will continue to increase on Park Point and in Duluth.

“The condos might be overpriced,? said Bersell, citing the poor economy. “But the remaining spots in South Pier Shores will sell as time goes by. I think land development will begin to lean towards luxury suites because there are a lot of seasonal residents of Duluth.?

How does the poor housing market and dwindling economy affect South Pier Shores? According to Rand Sola, it has had very little to do with the fact that five of the building’s eight units remain up for sale.

“[The current economy] isn’t helping by any means. But we’re more defined by our price range. We deal with a very thin market segment. The people who have shown interest have not been hurt too badly by the economy,? Sola said.