Involta Duluth 421 N 6th: Involta partners with Essentia Health at former Duluth hardware store

Jun 24, 2011 | Posted by Eric Bell

The Central Hillside building that long housed Daugherty Hardware will be a data center for Essentia Health Systems by the end of the year if plans announced today come to fruition.

Originally published in the Duluth News Tribune

The Central Hillside building that long housed Daugherty Hardware will be a data center for Essentia Health Systems by the end of the year if plans announced today come to fruition.

It will be operated by Involta, the fast-growing Iowa company that also has announced plans to build a data center in the Duluth Technology Park at Rice Lake Road and Arrowhead Road.

The Central Hillside facility will take 10,000 square feet, or about one-quarter, of the Daugherty building, said Chris Shroyer, vice president for sales and marketing at Involta, which is headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The transition of the old Daugherty building, 421 N. Sixth Ave. E., requires a special-use permit that will be reviewed by the Duluth Planning Commission in July. It would be converted into use as a data center by The Bick Group, a St. Louis-based technology company. Essentia has owned the building since 2007.

Dennis Smith, director of technology systems for Essentia, said the regional hospital network plans to have data collection at both Involta sites.

Essentia has two data centers in its buildings now, Smith said, with one duplicating the other. But they are only a block apart, meaning an event such as a natural disaster could take out both of them. "It's much better to have data centers separated by miles."

The data center in the Daugherty building would be about 2½ miles from the planned facility on Rice Lake Road, Smith said. "That kind of separation is much better than a block, obviously."

The change of locations isn't expected to change the size of Essentia's IT work force, Smith said. It's hoped that the data center in the Daugherty building will be in operation by December, he said.

Before that can happen, the planning commission will need to act on the special-use permit, and the City Council on an ordinance. Cindy Petkac, city planning manager, said that under the city's Unified Development Code, approved last summer, the Daugherty building is in an MU-N Zoning District, meaning mixed-use neighborhood. One of the prohibited uses in that zone is for a storage warehouse, and that category would include a data center.

But in reality, a data center is nothing like a warehouse, Petkac said. So city planners have prepared an ordinance that would allow developers to seek a special-use permit to put a data center in a mixed-use neighborhood. The City Council is expected to vote on that ordinance on July 18, six days after the Planning Commission is asked to approve the permit for the Daugherty conversion. That approval would be contingent upon the council passing the ordinance, Petkac said.

Shroyer said the addition of the Daugherty site won't change the number of employees -- eight -- that Involta expects to hire in Duluth. It likely will create more than the 100 construction jobs originally anticipated. But the Daugherty building doesn't require extensive renovation.

"That building ... suits our needs very, very well, as it is already a fairly hardened facility with no or very limited windows and entrances," Shroyer said. "The style of the building lends itself to a quality facility for IT computing."

In a news release on Friday, Involta said design of the Technology Village facility was under way even though not all local permits have been cleared. The $10.5 million, 24,000-square-foot facility would "utilize the naturally cooler climate of Duluth to increase efficiency," the release said.

In addition to Essentia Health, Duluth-based SISU Medical Systems already has leased space in the planned facility. Shroyer said Involta hopes to have it operational by September 2012.