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Empty Temple building awaits buyer

The Temple Opera Building, 201 E. Superior St., is now empty of tenants and listed for sale. (2018 file / News Tribune)

The last tenants of the Temple Opera Building were required to vacate the structure by Aug. 3 in anticipation of an imminent sale. But one month later, the downtown building sits empty, with its owner, the Duluth Economic Development Authority, still looking for a buyer.

The building at 211 E. Superior St. has since been relisted for sale with an asking price of $525,000 on LoopNet.com, an online commercial real estate site.

Lane Ellis, a digital marketer, was among those displaced when DEDA ordered him out.

"As one of the longtime Temple Opera Building business tenants who was rushed out before having new office space lined up, and also as an enthusiastic fan of the NorShor block improvement project, it's especially sad to now see that lovely building sit empty," he said.

Heather Rand, DEDA's executive director, said the authority has been working to relocate tenants from the building for more than a year now, so the August deadline to be out of the space should have come as no surprise to anyone.

DEDA acquired the Temple Opera Building along with the neighboring NorShor Theatre and an annex in 2010 as part of a $2.6 million deal. The historic theater has since been restored, and Rand said DEDA made its intentions clear to the Temple Opera Building's tenants from the beginning.

"We gave them ample notice that some time shortly after the NorShor reopened we would be entering into a sales agreement, and we have been offering relocation assistance for many many months."

But Ellis described the past several months as a challenge.

"Ultimately I'll have had to move offices three times, first within the Temple Opera Building to make way for a shared NorShor project elevator, secondly in August when I was forced to leave the building without having a new space lined up, and a third time this week, as after months of looking, I've finally found a new office," he said.

Regarding the current status of the building, Rand said: "The property is for sale, and we're still accepting offers. We're in negotiations with a couple parties at this point, but we won't have any additional details to report until we have a deal coming together that I can bring to DEDA."

She's eager to see the building put back to productive use.

"Of course we always want things to happen quicker than they do," Rand said, adding that she still hopes to sell the building before winter arrives.

For now, the Temple Opera Building continues to operate with a negative cash flow, but Rand said she's not overly concerned about some short-term losses.

"In terms of revenues or whatnot, I can tell you that throughout the NorShor's construction period, there were many months when DEDA commissioners actually gave us permission to charge zero rent or reduced rent. So this has not been a money-maker for DEDA. It's an economic development project, and it's all about supporting the HART (Historic Arts and Theater) District and its continued growth," Rand said

She remains upbeat about the structure's future, saying: "I'm looking forward to some change, and I'm very hopeful that we're going to have the right party come in and rent up that building a little bit.

"We don't know if we're going to call in DEDA tomorrow for a special meeting to approve a sale or if it's going to take another 30 days. But in the meantime, we felt it was really important to have a firm close date for the existing tenants, because they were tending to linger, and we wanted them to try to finally understand that it really was time for them to make some changes. I think we were very patient," Rand said.

Glenn Tobey, a psychotherapist who also was a former tenant of the Temple building, said that the space he just moved into wasn't ready for occupancy yet and needed some work. He requested several days forbearance to maintain his office at the Temple building while those improvements were being made, offering to pay for the extended stay, but DEDA would not budge on his exit date.

Three weeks before his departure, Tobey said he learned that DEDA's deal with a prospective buyer had fallen through. But instead of accommodating his request, Tobey said Rand toed a hard line.

Just this week, Tobey's new office space finally was ready to serve clients. He expressed disappointment about what he called "the disrespect and rigidity" he encountered at the hands of his former landlord, DEDA, especially when the space now sits empty.

Rand said DEDA did what it could to help tenants make an admittedly difficult transition. She said any future owner of the building will need to maintain the structure's facade and a skywalk easement, but that she trusts that entity to find the right reuse for the Temple Opera Building.

Meanwhile, Ellis said he wishes Rand nothing but the best of luck.

"Duluth businesses and clients have certainly been affected by this move, however I hope that DEDA soon finds a buyer for the Temple Opera Building that appreciates what a gem it is," he said.

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