Bluestone Developer Talks About Vue Project, Why Developers Are Building Luxury Over Basic Housing

DULUTH, Minn. — In the next few years, Duluth will see more luxury housing than ever before popping up all over the area, from up on the hill to down by the lake.

One of the luxury properties popping up in less than two years is Bluestone Vue by developer Mark Lambert.

Since acquiring the 27 acres of land in 2012 after Woodland Middle School closed, Lambert has built Bluestone Lofts and Bluestone Flats and welcomed a mix of retail and restaurants to the property.

Vue is slated to open in July 2021, and will have the same luxuries as his first two properties: an indoor pool, sauna, gym, underground parking, entertainment areas, and a lot more.

“Bluestone Lofts turned out to be primarily a student development,” Lambert said. “We have a lot of students from UMD, from St. Scholastica. We have a little larger units, we had a nice mix which attracted students. Bluestone Flats was more of a market-type building. We’ve got a lot of seniors, we’ve got a lot of folks that are just working, and we expect Vue at Bluestone to be very similar to the Flats, we’ll have a lot of working people, some privileged students, but again, just a nice mix for the area.”

Bluestone is by definition luxury housing, but Lambert said some rent prices will be under the thousand-dollar mark at Vue, because there will be more studios.

Monthly prices at Vue will range from $900 to $2,000 for studios up to three-bedroom units.

“The reason we’ve done that, is we’ve really noticed that there’s a need for some smaller sized units, so about a third of our units will be in that studio, one-bedroom category,” Lambert explained.

Driving the market for luxury housing in Duluth are good-paying jobs in the healthcare and aircraft industries, and some of those sectors continue to grow, like Essentia Health starting its Vision Northland project.

“I do continue to see the need for apartments and the need for larger apartments, and so to the extent the market is able to meet that demand, I think you’ll continue to see buildings,” Lambert said.

Even though affordable housing without all the luxuries is also in high demand here, Duluth continues to see a lot of developers from the Twin Cities come to the Twin Ports to build mostly higher-end housing.

Lambert has developed residential housing in Duluth for the past twenty years, such as the Campus Park and Boulder Ridge apartments.

In recent years, less developers have come into Duluth to build lower-priced housing with just the basic amenities.

He said one of the main reasons the luxury trend is happening, is because building housing in the 21st century is expensive to begin with, sometimes adding up to about a $250,000 per unit to build.

Adding luxuries like granite countertops and hardwood floors doesn’t add much to the overall cost for a developer, but adds much more value and appeal to renters.

“I think sometimes we get too hung up on the idea of trying to find a definition for affordable,” Lambert said. “The reality of it is, is that’s it’s very, very expensive to build buildings today. It’s very expensive to build units, and so it isn’t as though a developer is walking off with huge profits every time they open a door. Sometimes it’s a lot skinnier than that. The real issue is that creating new apartments, whether they’re a little higher-end, whether they’re affordable, creates more housing stock, and that housing stock I think gives the opportunity for everybody to find a place to live. So in a sense, even the newer buildings are creating affordable housing, it’s just where in the spectrum will you find that housing.”

In some of the earlier renderings for Bluestone Vue, Lambert had envisioned it as a mixed-use development with a grocery store on the ground floor. Now, it will just be residential.

“I think what changed is kind of the whole world of retailing,” Lambert explained. “You know, when we first envisioned Bluestone, we expected that we would find a grocer that was ready to come in and open the door. And I think with the advent of Amazon and Whole Foods, and the whole change that’s happening there, I think the retailers today are a little more skittish about stepping in. And so while we didn’t find a grocer, we do have a grocer up the street, Mount Royal Foods, so we’re not without groceries nearby.”

Of the 194 units Vue will have, two are already leased.

Lambert said he hopes his latest project fills a piece of the gap in affordable housing, even if it means less square footage for some renters.

“What we’re hoping the Vue will bring to the table is kind of a little bit of our answer to being affordable,” Lambert said. “The units are going to be a little bit smaller-sized, which means they’re going to be a little more affordable than our bigger units, and we’re hoping that we can have folks that might not of been able to find the ideal place with us at the Flats or at the Lofts find housing with us at the Vue. I think it’s a step forward. I think there are a lot of apartment projects underway, a lot of apartment projects being considered. I hope this answers a need and beyond that I guess, once we get open, we’ll see how we’re doing on the occupancy.”

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