Encompassing more than 4,000 separate parcels, the volume and diversity of tax-forfeit open space properties in the City of Duluth is too great to address all at once. To proceed in manageable phases, the City and the County have broken the City into 11 distinct areas and agreed that they will focus first on deciding the future ownership and use of properties in five areas - Lester/Amity, Hartley/Downer, Piedmont, Mission, and the St. Louis Riverfront – comprising roughly half of the tax forfeit open space properties in Duluth.
The parcel list developed by City staff on the basis of Council-approved parcel selection guidelines was submitted to St Louis County in May. The submission proposes City acquisition and protection of 2398 acres of tax forfeit open space including 345 acres along the St Louis Riverfront, 493 acres in the Lester-Amity area, 272 acres in the Downer Park area in the Woodland neighborhood, 637 acres in the Mission Creek area, and 650 acres in Piedmont. The public release of the preliminary parcel acquisition list has been years in the making, the result of nearly a decade of collaborative analysis, public engagement, and problem solving between the City of Duluth, St. Louis County, and the Minnesota Land Trust.
In Transaction #1, 345 acres of ecologically sensitive St. Louis Riverfront will be acquired with an EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant. St Louis County will sell the property for 20% of its estimated market value in accordance with Minn. Stat. § 282.01, Subd. 1(a)(h) which permits Counties to sell environmentally valuable properties to municipalities for less than market value if they are to be managed for environmental protection.
In Transaction #2, tax forfeit open space in the Lester, Hartley/Downer, Piedmont, and Mission areas will be transferred to the City in association with the donation to St. Louis County of identically valued timberland located outside Duluth. The donation - facilitated by the Minnesota Land Trust and the Conservation Fund with funding from the State of Minnesota – effectively replaces the tax forfeit open space that the County is giving up within the City of Duluth. The County will gain 4,300 acres of former Potlatch timberland valued at $3.9 million that the County will manage for forestry, wildlife habitat, water quality, and recreation. The City will, in turn, gain select tax forfeit open space of equal, $3.9 million, value that the City will commit to permanently protect. As proposed by the City of Duluth, most of the parcels in the Lester, Hartley/Downer, Piedmont, and Mission areas would be transferred to the City pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 282.01, Subd. 1(e)(a) which enables counties to convey tax forfeit property to municipalities at no cost if the properties are to be used for park purposes.