Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert on Cargill family member buying spree in Park Point

The Aerial Lift Bridge is seen
The Park Point neighborhood of Duluth is a long narrow strip connected to the mainland by the iconic aerial lift bridge. It extends about eight miles into Lake Superior.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

The landscape of a Duluth neighborhood could be drastically changing. The Cargill family has been buying up property in Park Point, a long narrow strip that extends from Canal Park and extends about eight miles into Lake Superior.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, billionaire Kathy Cargill has bought upward of 20 properties on Park Point, getting the attention of neighbors and now City Hall.

Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to explain the situation.

The following is a transcription of the audio heard using the player above, lightly edited for clarity.

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What message did you send Ms. Cargill? What are you hoping to find out?

Coming into office, we’d had I think the first nine purchases, and you describe Park Point well, it is beloved to our community, to the state and to me personally. It was kind of at that point I just extended an offer to come visit with me, her or her representatives, or the Park Point Community Club, which is one of our most active community clubs.

When there’s a lack of information, people fill in their own stories. And already in early February I was hearing a whole list of what might be happening. Since then, as you noted, there have been more purchases and I think that curiosity is probably now more more aptly described as concern.

What are you hoping does not happen?

I think many would have their own answers to that. I think, for me speaking in the role of mayor, housing is a real issue in Duluth. And you know, in 10 years we created 39 new single-family homes in Duluth … we could use over 400 tomorrow.

So the loss of homes, the deconstruction, is what concerns me most. That homes are torn down and land is just left empty at a time that we really need to be adding single-family homes to our community. And that is something that I noted in my invitation to Ms. Cargill, to come and visit just the idea that we would actually be losing single family homes at a time that we desperately need them in our community.

Many of the properties were sold at twice their estimated value or more. So the folks who sold received some pretty decent money, do you think they realized what was happening?

I think by the time that first initial batch of purchases was made, yes. I think you know, as well as I do, it’s a tight neighborhood down there and folks talk to each other. And Duluth is a big small town and the community talks to each other.

You hit on something that is also a little bit of a concern and that is for longtime residents who bought down there when it wasn’t what Park Point is now — they’ve seen significant valuation increases over the last five years, up to 55-60 percent.

And of course, that’s what property taxes are based on. The size and number of these purchases is certainly going to increase the valuation for folks who are still there, and I’m very concerned for long-term residents who may be literally taxed out of their homes.

I assume the city of Duluth can make things difficult for Ms. Cargill, what are the potential options here?

I want to be clear, that’s not our intent. Our intent is to welcome residents to our community. My desire as part of a conversation that I still hope she’d be willing to have with me or her representatives would have with me, is to talk about how you can be a great resident.

Even if it’s a part-time one … maybe we can collectively make some investments there.

We do have zoning, and we do have code and we do have permits and all of those are being followed. And as you know, that is absolutely her right.

That’s something I started my letter with. I said I respect your private property rights, I respect the ability of folks to sell but there’s just curiosity, and like I said, that curiosity is maybe a little bit more now concern.

I do want to take this opportunity just to say to not just my community but the Minnesotans who love to come to Duluth and spend time on Park Point, the beach is public property and that will not change. The street ends that we all love, we all have our favorite one, those are also public property and that will not change.

That is one thing that any effort to vacate street ends or somehow combine properties would need to go through the council, go through City Hall, and I will not move on that.

What are the next steps for you?

We’re gonna write another letter. This is not adversarial, this is not aggressive on my behalf. It’s a concern in my community and I want to use that office of mayor just to extend this invitation.

I would love to welcome her to City Hall, to the mayor’s reception room to just chat about her designs not only for these properties, but Park Point as a neighborhood. We have lots of things that I think I would be excited to connect her with.

So we’re going to draft another letter, probably very much like the first one. I’ve invited counselors to join me on that and so far, nearly all of them have said that they would like to and again, just extend that invitation.

We do want to be welcoming of her to our community but we also want to be mindful of the community concerns with these purchases.

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