DULUTH – The city appealed a district judge's order that asked it to perform work on the former Kozy Bar, which officials argued was damaged beyond repair in a November fire.
The downtown Duluth property has been the subject of legal battles since 2018, when former owner Eric Ringsred and a local preservationist group filed a lawsuit to protect the 19th-century brownstone from demolition.
The city and the Duluth Economic Development Authority, which owns the property, have for years hoped to tear down the abandoned structures to make way for new development. They argued the buildings — also known as the Pastoret Terrace and Paul Robeson Ballroom — are a blight to downtown and a threat to public safety.
But attorneys for Ringsred, who forfeited the property in 2015 for failing to pay taxes, said the city failed to properly consider alternatives to demolition of the nationally recognized historic structures.
District Judge Eric Hylden ruled in favor of the city in 2019, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals in August overturned his decision and said the district court must require the city "to perform all maintenance and repairs necessary to prevent the property's further deterioration."
The city had not done any work on the property by November, when a fire broke out and collapsed part of the roof. That prompted the city to again ask Hylden for permission to tear down at least the most damaged parts of the buildings "to protect the public."
Hylden did not grant the city's request and last week ordered officials to brace the exterior of the property and obtain estimates for future repairs.
The city is now asking the Court of Appeals to consider "whether the District Court erred" by denying their request and not requiring any additional security payments from the plaintiff.
Miles Ringsred and Bill Paul, attorneys representing Eric Ringsred and the preservationist group, sent letters to the city Thursday saying they would seek court sanctions if Duluth does not dismiss its appeal.
"It is glaringly obvious that the City has no intention of complying with any order from any Court requiring the City to undertake work to keep the Pastoret Terrace protected from the elements and from further damage," Paul wrote in a letter.
Duluth City Attorney Rebecca St. George said in a statement that the city's appeal "is a matter of right under the Minnesota rules."
"These claims are unfounded," she said. "We are confident that the work of our team adheres to the highest standards of professionalism."
St. George declined to comment more on the case.
In an interview Friday, Miles Ringsred called the city's move "a bad-faith delay" and said he is exploring the possibility of asking the court to appoint a third-party receiver to manage and control the property while litigation continues. He also said he may ask that the court require the city to make a bond payment equal to the repair estimates produced.
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478