Free house available in Duluth — but there’s a catch

Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
House at BlueStone
This brick house temporarily used as the leasing office for BlueStone Lofts near the University of Minnesota Duluth is free to anyone willing and able to move it off the site and able to foot the bill. (Bob King /

The price of this two-story house couldn’t be better.

It’s free.

But it comes with a big catch: You move it, at your expense.

The house at 1220 Woodland Ave. has served as BlueStone Lofts leasing office for the past year while the new housing complex geared to college students was under construction behind it.

“It served its purpose well,” said Mark Lambert, developer of the former Woodland Middle School site.

The 1,950-square-foot house built in 1912 is assessed at $139,800, according to city records. That doesn’t count the land it sits on, which isn’t part of the deal. The three-bedroom house is in good shape. BlueStone had remodeled it as a welcoming first stop for prospective tenants, including installing a new kitchen.

Now that BlueStone Lofts is complete, open and its offices are in the new complex, the house has to go to make way for an 8,000-square-foot restaurant to be built on the site.

Lambert said he’d like to see the house recycled.

“If there is someone who is passionate about moving the house, we’d be happy to have them move it,” he said. “I would give them time to do it.”

But not a lot of time. The process needs to get going within the next 30 to 45 days, Lambert said.

“Then, if we don’t have anybody to use it, we would be demolishing the home,” he said.

Moving the house would not only be extremely difficult, but expensive, experts say.

“I don’t think this is an easy task,” Lambert admitted. “It’s a solid brick house. The weight of that house and being able to move it is a challenge. Hopefully someone out there has the passion and desire and means to do it. I would like to see that house reused.”

Dale Cich, who has been moving houses for 30 years, isn’t eager to try.

“It’s very difficult and expensive to move it very far because it’s so tall,” said Cich, who owns Cich Services Inc. in Duluth.

First, there’s the brick problem. They’re apt to fall off if you try to move the structure, though that can be dealt with by bolting steel beams around the house, he said.

Then there are the wires traversing streets that would get in the way of a two-story house being moved down the street. Electrical, cable and phone wires would have to be moved out of the way, with temporary power set up for the public.

Traffic lights suspended over intersections also would be problematic. Such obstacles exist on Woodland Avenue in the vicinity of the house.

“It’s just extremely expensive,” Cich said. “The farther you go, the more expensive it gets.”

When Piedmont Avenue was reconstructed, it was Cich who moved three multi-story houses six to eight blocks from Piedmont to 27th Avenue West.

The houses were moved at the same time in 2003, spreading the $25,000 cost of moving wires among the three.

“I would never have been able to move the wires to do just one,” said Cich, adding that the cost to move each house was $15,000 to $20,000.

It also was Cich who moved a large house at the corner of Woodland Avenue and Arrowhead Road back 30 feet, setting it on a new foundation to accommodate widened intersection turn lanes. The job, about 10 years ago, cost a whopping $100,000, even without the need to move wires.

Moving a house in the city also means tediously working with the city and “jumping through a lot of hoops,” Cich said.

“When you’re done, the value of the property wouldn’t be worth all the expenses to do it, unless you’re moving it a very short distance,” he said.

So far, a couple of people have approached BlueStone about the house, Lambert said.

“They’ve talked to the builders, they’ve seen the challenges and decided they weren’t able to pursue it,” he said.

Bluestone also owns six houses in the 900 block of Woodland Avenue that are slated for eventual demolition for future redevelopment.

“There may be some opportunities for those houses to be relocated as well,” Lambert said. “That’s a year or so out.”

The houses currently are occupied.

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