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DULUTH — When Park Point resident Dan O'Neill was offered nearly twice the estimated value of his home, he didn't immediately accept.

He'd lived on the Lake Superior side of the 7-mile-long sand spit, also known as Minnesota Point, most of his life. Although he had turned away interest in his property many times in the past, he'd planned to sell it in the next couple of years.

"We slept on the offer," he said, and woke up thinking they'd never see such a generous proposal again. "Not even close."

O'Neill agreed to $825,000 for his rambler on a property that St. Louis County valued this year at about $477,000.

It's one of 10 Park Point property sales made in the last year to a limited liability company managed by Kathy Cargill, a member of the billionaire Cargill family. Seven of the houses have been razed, with permits issued for the demolition of two others. Rumors are swirling that another three sales — that would make six in a row on the north end of Minnesota Avenue — are in negotiations.

No one seems to know for sure what might become of the properties, many of which were sold at twice their estimated value — or more. The LLC bought about half of the single-family houses sold on Park Point last year, with the median price of all sold homes about $477,000, according to Lake Superior Area Realtors.

The purchases have ignited worry over their effect on property taxes and the loss of sorely needed single-family housing, along with responsible development of the fragile and historically significant land, long struggling with erosion.

Park Point has many small older cottages, some passed down through generations. The neighborhood had humble beginnings more than a century ago, when many residents heated their homes with driftwood from the beach and coal that fell from freighters and washed up on the shore.

For several years it's undergone transformation, with hotels and vacation rentals replacing year-round residents, and some fear it will grow even more out of reach for the average buyer as million-dollar homes pop up.

St. Louis County Commissioner Annie Harala held a meeting with Park Point residents last fall. Some sellers said the money allowed them to finally retire despite a terrible economy, but many residents were concerned about tax rates and maintaining neighborhood connections.

"Most of all, losing single-family homes makes me worried," Harala said, and some of the most recent homes sold to the LLC were more affordable. "It's hard when somebody can price everybody out of the market."

A changing market

Kathy Cargill, who is listed in state filings as manager of North Shore LS LLC, buyer of the Park Point properties, didn't return messages for this story. Her Duluth real estate agent declined to comment.

Cargill's husband, James Cargill II, is one of a dozen heirs to Cargill Inc., the Minnetonka-based global food and agribusiness giant and the largest privately held company in the nation. Kathy Cargill told the Duluth News Tribune in December that the demolished houses were "pieces of crap" that she couldn't imagine living in.

Not a lot is known about Kathy Cargill. North Shore LS has the same address as a business registered to her husband. She is seen in a 2019 McLaren ad where she touts her love of the manufacturer's vehicles — she owns four, including a Senna, a $1 million-plus sports car — and is shown washing one in a garage wearing a Canal Park sweatshirt.

Cargill is renovating one house on Park Point, bought for $2.5 million in 2021. The other properties are grouped together in two separate areas and on both sides of the main drive that runs down the point. So far, no building permits have been issued.

Most of the sales to North Shore LS are viewed as atypical when it comes to assessing property values and won't be considered for taxes paid in 2025, said Mary Garness, the county public records and property valuation director. (Only three of the 10 houses were listed publicly and each of those sold much closer to their estimated values.)

But taxes could go up in the future, Garness said. If Cargill builds a multimillion-dollar house and then sells it in an arms-length transaction, it could affect values.

"If prices are inflated at the time of sale, it could make the comparatives inflated for the future," said Karen Pagel Guerndt, a Duluth real estate agent.

Real estate is only worth what someone is willing to pay, and in the case of the North Shore LS purchases on Park Point, they're paying far more than the county — and previous buyers in the area — think the property is worth.

County tax values, also known as the estimated market value (EMV) or tax assessment, don't always line up with actual sale prices because they often don't reflect the condition of the property and other market forces, including the number of listings for sale.

Last year, through her LLC, Cargill paid $900,000 — or nearly three times the EMV for a 4,100 square bayside house. In contrast, another buyer paid $480,000 for a bayside house that was about half the size of the one Cargill bought. The EMV of that property, which also sold last year, was $553,400. Bayside homes face Superior Bay.

'Fear and anxiety'

Shoreline property on the Lake Superior side of Park Point is public. Residents along the lake own land only up to a certain point, making the miles of sandy beach open to all. It's home to a small airport, U.S. Coast Guard station and a popular trail that winds through an old-growth red and white pine forest at the end of the point. Residents have their own neighborhood newsletter, an email listserv to ask for help and an active community club.

"It's pretty tight despite the changes over the years," said Dawn Buck, president of the Park Point Community Club.

Residents fiercely want to protect the "unique, ecologically significant and beautiful place," and also be welcoming to newcomers who might become involved in the neighborhood's causes, said Buck, who lives in a family home first inhabited by her great-grandmother, who moved to the point in 1930.

But with so little information, and the sheer number of recent purchases, she said, "there's just a lot of unknown, and with unknown comes fear and anxiety."

Cargill's comments about the properties she bought didn't help, said O'Neill, one of the sellers.

"I think what she said was unfortunate. It hurt me and it hurt my family," he said. "And it hurt a lot of Park Pointers."

Park Point resident Rory Strange said the neighborhood has growing pains each time a house is demolished and a larger one replaces it.

But progress on the point is expected, he said, and a high number of second homes and vacation rentals are already there.

"Duluth has advertised itself for years as the place to be: the San Francisco of the North," Strange said. "We're at that point, where people are going, 'ah, they're right.'"

Staff writer Jim Buchta contributed to this report.