DULUTH – A St. Louis County judge on Wednesday turned down the city's request to demolish the former Kozy Bar and ordered officials to start work to stabilize the fire-damaged property.

The city must brace the exterior of the property and get estimates for future steps toward restoring the historic buildings known as the Pastoret Terrace and Paul Robeson Ballroom, District Court Judge Eric Hylden wrote.

The fate of the properties has been mired in court since 2018, when former owner Eric Ringsred and a local preservationist group filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the city from tearing down the 19th-century brownstone to make way for new development.

The city has argued that the buildings are blighted and pose a safety concern, while Ringsred said officials failed to properly consider alternatives to demolition of the properties, which are on the National Historic Register.

The buildings were used as apartments until they were deemed uninhabitable after a fire in 2010. Ringsred owned the property until 2015, when he forfeited it for failing to pay taxes. The Duluth Economic Development Authority, a city agency, acquired the buildings from the county the following year.

Hylden sided with the city in 2019, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned his ruling in August and ordered the city to "perform all maintenance and repairs necessary to prevent the property's further deterioration."

Then in November, a fire in the building caused damage that prompted the city to ask the judge to remove an injunction barring demolition. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, a city spokesperson said Wednesday.

The city said a structural assessment showed that the fire collapsed a portion of the property's roof, destroyed sizable sections of its interior and further deteriorated its brick-and-mortar facade. In December, they asked Hylden to allow them to tear down at least the most-damaged part of the buildings "to protect the public and remove this ticking time bomb."

But attorneys for Ringsred consulted their own engineer and proposed a phased approach that they wrote "will be the most cost-effective and efficacious path to restoring the structural integrity and preventing the Pastoret's further deterioration."

Miles Ringsred, who represents his father in the case, said Wednesday he believes stabilizing the properties will allow both parties to get "a more honest look" at possible alternatives for the building.

He acknowledged that closer assessments could reveal the building is beyond repair but said he remains hopeful about the possibility of redeveloping the property with at least parts of its original structure intact.

"The Court believes that this sort of phased approach is the most sensible and allows the Court and the parties to collect all necessary information to determine whether advancing to the next phase is prudent," wrote Hylden, who ordered the parties to confer after the structure is stabilized to discuss next steps.

A city spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling. In December, Duluth's City Council approved spending $135,000 to maintain the property if ordered by the court.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478