Arson is suspected in a small fire in downtown Duluth that torched the home of the former Paul Robeson Ballroom and Kozy Bar, a building that is locked in a long-running legal stalemate over its fate.

Plywood covering a side door to the ballroom was intentionally ignited Wednesday night, the Fire Department said.

Two crews were sent the building at 129 E. 1st St. about 10:40 p.m. and quickly doused the flames before they spread.

No one was in the building at the time, said city spokeswoman Kate Van Daele.

No arrests have been made in connection with the arson. Anyone with information that might help authorities determine who is responsible for the fire is encouraged to call the Duluth arson tip line at 218-730-5080. 

The 19th-century building once housed luxury townhouses and the bar.

Most recently, they were used as low-income apartments, which have been deemed unfit for habitation since they were damaged in a fire in 2010.

The city wants to tear down that property and the adjacent Pastoret Terrace, but a legal challenge based on historic preservation grounds has those plans on hold. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

City officials had been hoping to start redeveloping the properties before summer, when an event was planned to commemorate the lives of three black men 100 years after they were lynched downtown. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, built in their honor, sits across the street. But the centennial event has been postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus.