DULUTH – The clock is ticking for a small group fighting to hold off the wrecking ball looming over two historic but blighted buildings downtown.
The City Council is poised to vote Monday on a $148,000 contract with a company that’s put in a bid to tear down the Pastoret Terrace and Paul Robeson Ballroom properties.
Once that’s approved, there would be nothing legally preventing Duluth officials from demolishing the structures, which are tied up in multiple court cases.
Defendants Eric Ringsred, the former owner of the properties, and Respect Starts Here, a local preservationist organization, are scrambling to post a $50,000 bond that would prohibit demolition while their lawsuit is ongoing. But they haven’t come up with the money yet.
Miles Ringsred, an attorney representing Respect Starts Here and Eric’s son, said his father plans to use another downtown property he owns as collateral. He thinks it could “look pretty bad, optics-wise” for the city to rush demolition before a ruling is issued in the case, which is now in the appeals court.
“They may not want to go there,” Miles Ringsred said. “But I don’t think we’re going to rely on that.”
He added that there is also another lawsuit regarding the forfeiture of the properties that could be used to hold off construction crews.
Eric Ringsred, who has frequently fought the city to protect some of its older architecture, lost the buildings in 2015 for falling behind on taxes.
The city and the Duluth Economic Development Authority (DEDA) have long sought to knock down the properties and redevelop the corner of First Street and East Second Avenue.
The buildings, constructed in the late 19th century, once housed luxury townhouses and the former Kozy 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.
A District Court judge ruled in favor of the city and DEDA in October, writing that the structures were beyond repair and a threat to public safety.
Ringsred and Respect Starts Here, who are arguing the properties should be protected as historical resources, appealed the decision in December.
City officials did not say Thursday if they would move forward with demolition immediately if the council approves the contract Monday.
But council members announced their support for tearing down the properties, which they say have marred Duluth’s downtown for too long.
“The administration’s interest, in general, is in getting the building down as soon as we can or as soon as it is appropriate,” said Noah Schuchman, Duluth’s chief administrative officer.