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Duluth residents displaced as Essentia buys homes for hospital expansion

DULUTH, MN– Imagine someone showing up at your front door telling you your home will soon be demolished.

19 residents on the 300 Block of E. 1st. St. in downtown Duluth are being displaced as part of Essentia Health’s Vision Northland expansion project.

The hospital recently purchased five properties along the block across from the Blue Parking Ramp to redevelop and benefit the expansion.

A friendly therapy pup and her owner have called those apartment home for the past three years.

“I just absolutely love this place,” says current tenant, Debra Johnson Robnik

Robnik, owner to Maggie Mae,  fell in love with their second-floor 2-bedroom at first sight and planned to make it their permanent home. “I am very gracious for where I’m living, I really am,” says Robnik.

But the duo recently received some unsettling news, they would have to leave for good by the end of the year.

In disbelief her forever home would soon be taken from her, Robnik struggled to understand why this was happening. “At first it was really hard for me to deal with, it really was.”

Her home along with 18 other tenants, was purchased by Essentia to better construct the medical district in the city.

Senior Vice President of Operations at Essentia Health, Mark Hayward says,  “This is critical property for us strategically for us in the long term because that’s where our main parts of the campus will be is right next to those properties.”

The multi-million dollar project, consisting of mostly private investment, is looking to consolidate and upgrade its campus. Hayward says, “we’ve spread out over the years and now we’re really coming back together to make that land more available for other uses in the Central Hillside.”

As for what exactly these properties will be used for, Hayward says, “it is a preferred location for a parking ramp potentially.”

It’s still up in the air. As is the exact date Robnik would need to vacate her home.  She says, “I don’t want to be living out of boxes if it’s going to be three months from now.”

For now, Robnik and Maggie Mae are keeping their options open, hoping to find affordable housing and assistance before being displaced.

Robnik has some ideas in mind. “Someplace where there’s green space, where I can walk her and feel safe.”

Duluth’s Public Information Officer, Kate Van Daele says, “The City of Duluth continues to support the expansion of the Duluth’s housing market, and the medical district. Having a net loss of affordable housing is not an option for Duluth. We know that, and Essentia knows that. We know that Essentia is being intentional on they chose to be a part of Duluth’s housing solution.”

An Essentia Attorney is working with tenants who are being displaced and helping with some of the moving costs.

Jessie Slater

Weekend Anchor and Multimedia Journalist

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