DULUTH – A blighted but historic downtown building will stand on the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East for at least a while longer after its former owner appealed a court decision that would have allowed the city to move forward with demolition plans.
Though the adjacent Pastoret Terrace and Paul Robeson Ballroom properties — once home of the former Kozy Bar — are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, St. Louis County Judge Eric Hylden deemed the structure beyond saving in an October ruling.
The city has been hoping to tear down the building for months now, arguing it attracts crime and mars Duluth’s downtown. But Eric Ringsred, an emergency-room doctor who owned the property until 2015, and a local preservationist organization called Respect Starts Here launched an attempt to save the building by filing suit against the city and the Duluth Economic Development Authority (DEDA) in April 2018.
Now, Ringsred and Respect Starts Here are arguing, among other things, that Hylden’s ruling failed to properly consider all the “feasible and prudent alternatives” to demolition as is required under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which protects historical resources as well as natural ones.
On Wednesday, Hylden agreed to grant a stay of judgment, which precludes the city from moving forward with demolition while the appeal is ongoing. That’s contingent on Ringsred and Respect Starts Here posting a $50,000 bond, an amount they aren’t yet sure they will be able to scrape together.
This isn’t the first time Ringsred and his son Miles, an attorney representing Respect Starts Here, have poured time, energy and money into their preservationist efforts. In prior instances, they’ve worked with and against local officials to save the architecture he considers precious.
“I think it’s disrespectful to tear down the work of our forefathers,” Eric Ringsred said. “There’s something intangible about that that I think is very important to the spirit of our city.”
City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said he’s disappointed that the city likely won’t be able to demolish the building before the summer, when thousands of visitors from around the country are expected to come to Duluth 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 from the Kozy property.
“We were really hoping that we could have that area cleaned up by the time we get this national attention,” Johnson said. “But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”
Ringsred, who lost the property to the state for failing to pay property taxes, is exploring other legal venues to save the building, including a lawsuit claiming DEDA did not follow proper procedures when it purchased the property from the county.
“We’ve been dealing with the Ringsreds for decades. It’s not surprising,” said Johnson, who added that he is confident the city will prevail.
The landmark Pastoret building, constructed from brick and brownstone in the late 19th century, once housed a ballroom and luxury townhouses. Most recently, it was used as single-room housing for low-income residents, but it was damaged by a fire in 2010 and deemed unfit for habitation ever since.
Eric Ringsred said he thinks the issue has become “bigger than the building,” arguing the city rejected viable development proposals and pushed for his party to have to post unreasonable bonds.
“Having big insurmountable hurdles like this,” Miles Ringsred added, “could have a chilling effect on people bringing environmental claims under the statute in the future.”