The City of St. Paul can move forward with the demolition of the Moonlight Magic bar, a vacant building in Frogtown that a Minneapolis couple was trying to restore into a Somali wedding venue.
Alex Jerome and Ameena Samatar claimed the city was blocking their effort to open a wedding venue at 601 Western Av. and filed a lawsuit in February 2013 to stop the city from demolishing it.
On Monday, Court of Appeals Judge Matthew E. Johnson issued an opinion dismissing all of the couple’s claims.
Jerome declined to comment on the court’s ruling. The couple argued in court that they did everything the city asked of them, including providing proof of financial ability and submitting work plans and repair bids, but the city still voted to demolish the building in December 2012. The court ruled the Realtors did not submit all of the required documents, even with repeated extensions and clarification from the city.
St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing said the city is looking at the court’s decision before deciding how to proceed.
Jerome and Samatar had been trying to fix up the property since July 2012, when they purchased it from a bank. The two-story brick building, which was built in 1890 and sits across the street from a school, has historically been trouble for the city. Liquor violations, shootings and a beating death outside the Moonlight Magic bar prompted the city to revoke its liquor license in 2010.
In an interview with the Star Tribune in January, Jerome said he was aware that the building had been categorized as a public nuisance, but because he had experience with buying vacant properties, he believed getting the building to code would be relatively simple. They envisioned a wedding hall on the top floor, and the first floor housing an ethnic grocery store or dollar store.
The couple said the city was acting unjustly and making the restoration process unnecessarily difficult because they were trying to open a Somali business. The couple pointed to a statement made by hearing officer Marcia Moermond, who said “this is a joke” when she realized the new owner was Samatar, who was dressed in a Muslim hijab. But the city says in a court filing that Moermond was referring to the fact that Samatar lived in Minneapolis and made a “dismissive comment about Minneapolis, which she then said was a joke.”
The court sided with the city, saying it was clear that Moermond was making a remark about Minneapolis and not Samatar.
“We are disappointed in the decision,” said Larry Leventhal, an attorney for the couple. “I think they neglected the issues of discrimination and cast them aside.”
A discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court by the couple in January is still pending, but the city has asked the court to dismiss it.