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Path clear for St. Peter's reinvention

The Duluth City Council passed an ordinance designating St. Peter's Church a historic landmark. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

As expected, the Duluth City Council unanimously took two actions this week that should open the way for the former St. Peter's church building to be transformed into a fine arts school.

The council passed an ordinance designating the building at 818 W. Third St. a local historic landmark and also approved an interim use permit allowing its new owner, Jeffrey Larson, to open a school he aims to call the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Arts on the site.

The outcome was far different from last year, when the council rejected a proposal to designate the same structure a historic landmark, as 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress recalled.

"It was I think about a year ago that a proposal came before us to designate the old St. Peter's Church as a historic landmark, and it was with great regret that last year I had to vote against that proposal simply because the property owner at that time was not in support of the proposal, and it's really not practical to designate a historical landmark against the wishes of a property owner," he said.

At that time, representatives of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish — which owned St. Peter's — expressed concern that the historic landmark status could complicate efforts to sell the shuttered church. St. Peter's was closed in 2010, when church officials concluded the dwindling size of its congregation would not be sufficient to provide support for its continued operations.

Sipress said Monday that he remembered "virtually every council member expressing their hope and their desire that a property owner could be found who appreciated the value of that building and the way it could be reused. So I'm really pleased we're going to be voting on this tonight, and I want to thank Mr. Larson for seeing the value in the building and making it a real asset for our community."

Council President Zack Filipovich described a shared sentiment at that time, saying: "Most councilors, including myself, had very high hopes and dreams that this building would be taken under new ownership. And a responsible landowner would come forward and purchase the property and use it and have it be an adaptive reuse of that historic structure."

He thanked Larson for stepping into that role and said that with the council action Monday, "Those hopes and dreams are answered tonight."

Larson said he hopes to remodel the former church so as to welcome his first class of aspiring artists by this fall.

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