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New life for the old Carlson Bookstore building at 206 E. Superior St. in downtown Duluth has been put off until the NorShor Theatre across the street is restored. But the owners say they’ll do structural repairs and restore the exterior by July 2015. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Old Downtown Duluth project on hold

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business Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

After painstaking renovations turned Duluth’s Old City Hall into Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery in downtown Duluth, the former Carlson Bookstore across the avenue was to be Tim Nelson and Rod Raymond’s next project.

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At 23,000 square feet, the vacant two-story building at 206 E. Superior St. had become an eyesore. But the two entrepreneurs — who bought the property for $400,000 in 2010, county records show — saw potential. Ideas flew, including using it as an event center, brewpub, production brewery, cafe, even a bakery.

But then the city put the architecturally striking Endion Station up for auction. And the two lovers of historic buildings couldn’t resist.  Their $300,000 bid got them another project.

But that pushed the Carlson project back.

Besides resources needed to get the Endion Station Public House going, Tycoons still is being established.

“Tycoons is complete, but we’re still growing the business,” company spokesman Brad Nelson said.

That was hampered by its proximity to Last Place on Earth, a local and troublesome head shop that authorities shut down in September.

Moreover, Tycoons was one of the first new businesses to invest in Old Downtown’s revitalization.

“There’s no stopping that district in the long run, but going in first was difficult,” Nelson said.

So the company is stepping back, waiting until the Norshor Theatre is restored.

“To do the Carlson building before the Norshor is done is risky and puts a huge strain on our company at best,” Nelson said.  “Once the Norshor is revitalized, it’ll be the lynchpin for the neighborhood. We just can’t be the first again.”

However, they face a July 1, 2015, deadline to spend $350,000 in historic tax credits on repairs and improvements to the building. The tax credits stem from a $350,000 grant they received from the Duluth Economic Development Authority to restore Old City Hall.

Nelson said they’ll make that deadline, doing some structural work on the building and restoring the exterior.

“Our obligations will be met,” Nelson said. “And it won’t be an eyesore to the community.”

The future use of the Carlson building depends a lot on whether Minnesota state law changes. They would like to establish a production brewery with a canning operation on the lower level and a tasting room and restaurant on the second floor, which offers good lake views.

But current state law forbids brewpub owners from selling its beer for off-sale consumption, except in growlers. And they’re not allowed to have a production brewery that bottles or cans the beer for outside distribution.

“We still hope the brewing laws change,” Nelson said. “The road we take depends on whether laws change.”

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