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Work to begin soon on makeover of former Carlson Bookstore in downtown Duluth

Repairs and upgrades to the long vacant building at 206 E. Superior St. that formerly housed Carlson Bookstore will begin by October. The work will include an exterior makeover, which will be completed by next summer. (2014 file / News Tribune)

Work to give the unsightly exterior of the old Carlson Bookstore building in downtown Duluth a makeover will begin by Oct. 1.

It has to.

The owners have until then to get started or pay back a $350,000 grant to the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

“We got to get going on this; we’re late,” said Bill Burns, an attorney representing the owners, Tim Nelson and Rod Raymond, who are doing business as Old City Hall LLC. “They’re anxious to get started.”

Burns’ comment came Wednesday, after DEDA commissioners approved pushing back the required start date from July 1 to Oct. 1.

The owners have until then to start spending $350,000 in historic tax credits on repairs and improvements to the old bookstore building and one-time automobile showroom at 206 E. Superior St. The tax credits stem from a $350,000 grant they received from DEDA to restore Old City Hall, today home to Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery. The conditional grant was intended to see two key projects happen in Old Downtown.

“The plans are done,” Burns assured DEDA commissioners. “The materials will be ordered. There will be activity there.”

Nelson didn’t return calls from the News Tribune last week.

Through Just Take Action, Nelson and Raymond’s hospitality business, the two entrepreneurs also own Fitger’s Brewhouse, Tycoons, Burrito Union, Redstar Lounge and Endion Station Public House, all in Duluth.

At their request, the DEDA board also removed a requirement that the renovation of the exterior of the old Carlson Bookstore be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior. That was related to the owners’ decision not to apply for historic tax credits for this building, Burns told DEDA commissioners.

While the “historic renovation” wording has been removed in the conditional grant agreement struck with the city in 2011, Burns said the exterior design will fit in with surrounding buildings in Old Downtown.

“Mostly, the concern was that somebody would be doing something that doesn’t fit into the historic district,” he said after the meeting.

The two-story structure was built in 1915 in a Classical Revival style. While the Superior Street facade has been altered, the second floor’s white pressed brick and brick pilasters between the second floor windows remain.

Burns said the façade will be re-faced with stone and concrete material that will look original. It also will undergo structural repairs and insulation, roofing and window work.

“It’s not in good shape,” he said.

With the remodeling and upgrades, they’re also going for a new building name —the Lange Motor Building — after a car dealership that operated there in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s when it was part of downtown’s “Automobile Row.”

According to the grant agreement with DEDA, the work must be done by July 1, 2015.

Nelson and Raymond bought the building for $400,000 in 2010. It was to be their next project after getting Tycoons up and running. But then the historic Endion Station was put up for auction. And unable to resist its potential, they bought it. They’ve since turned it into an eatery and bar that opened in July along the Lakewalk in Canal Park.

Early on, the two business partners had visions of using the two-story, 23,000-square-foot former bookstore across the avenue from Tycoons as an event center, café, bakery, brewpub and production brewery.

Their preference was to establish a production brewery there to boost production of their Brewhouse craft beer for broader distribution. They wanted a canning operation on the lower level and a taproom above it, along with other uses. But current state law forbids brewpub owners from selling their beer for off-sale consumption except in jugs called growlers. They also aren’t allowed to have a production brewery that bottles and cans beer for outside distribution.

Efforts to change state law have so far been unsuccessful. So currently the owners have no specific plans for the building and may even lease it, Burns said.