DULUTH – City construction crews could have come in and bulldoze the rabble-rousing buildings overnight as far as the court was concerned.
They didn’t. The Pastoret Terrace and Paul Robeson Ballroom properties, the former home of the Kozy Bar, remain standing on a downtown Duluth street corner, as they have since the late 19th century
But perhaps they won’t for much longer. For more than a year, a local emergency room doctor and his preservationist group have been waging a legal war against the city to prevent the redevelopment of the properties he considers historical resources.
Though the court battles continue, the fate of the buildings lies in imminent danger. A judge agreed to grant an injunction that would preclude demolition while an appeals case is ongoing, but the plaintiffs must post a $50,000 bond to secure the stay — an amount they’re struggling to produce.
As they scramble to pull together that money, nothing is preventing Duluth officials from moving forward with plans to tear down the buildings, which they say attract crime and detract from downtown. The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a $148,000 contract with a company set to handle the demolition.
City Attorney Gunnar Johnson could not say what an exact timeline for the teardown would look like but added that city is “going to move forward as quickly and deliberately as possible.”
“That probably doesn’t mean anything happens tomorrow,” he said Monday night.
At Monday’s meeting, City Council Member Joel Sipress said the buildings were “beyond the point of salvation,” echoing the district court judge who deemed the properties a threat to public safety in an October ruling in favor of the city.
“There really is no alternative but to demolish it,” said Sipress, who, along with other council members, used the buildings as a rallying cry for better stewardship of Duluth’s historic properties in the future.
The Pastoret Terrace and Paul Robeson Ballroom, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, once housed luxury townhouses and were more recently used as low-income apartments, which have been deemed unfit for habitation since they were damaged in a fire in 2010.
Eric Ringsred, the doctor suing the city, owned the properties until 2015, when he lost them through tax forfeiture. He and a small preservationist group called Respect Starts Here are arguing the city didn’t consider all feasible alternatives to the demolition of the historic buildings and appealed the district court’s ruling in December.
Ringsred, who has a large sum of money still tied up in a bond for the lower court case, is working with his attorneys to explore whether he can use another property as collateral for the bond or post half the amount to buy them a bit of time. Bob Berg, a 67-year-old retired elementary school teacher in the area, heard about Ringsreds’ plight and offered to chip in $25,000 to help hold off the wrecking ball.
“I’ve always thought it was one of Duluth’s most interesting buildings,” said Berg, who for years has served on the Duluth Preservation Alliance. “It was in the past, and I think it could be again in the future.”
At an emergency hearing Tuesday afternoon, St. Louis County District Judge Eric Hylden heard arguments from attorneys representing Ringsred and Respect Starts Here and those representing the city and St. Louis County, a defendant in a separate lawsuit related to the 2016 sale of the properties that Ringsred and others filed as another potential means of saving the historic buildings.
Hylden said he needed at least overnight to consider whether the court will change the terms of the Ringsreds’ bond. Until he makes up his mind, the pathway to demolition remains clear.