"Vacate the property."

That's what a letter forwarded May 3 to the local businesses in the Temple Opera Building read.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The 90-day notice of lease termination was sent by the Duluth Economic Development Authority, the current owner of the property located at 211 E. Superior St. DEDA plans on selling the century-old structure and wants tenants out by Aug. 3.

The decision has many distraught.

"My wife and I aren't really complaining-complaining. We understand," said Glenn Tobey, a psychotherapist. "But it has been the treatment. No handshakes. No 'we're sorry this is happening.' I know I'm a just a small fish, but I'm still a small fish."

Tobey and his wife, Katrina, work separately on the same floor of the building. They've been there for more than 10 years. He said he's had a great experience with the manager of the property and that he "would trust his word on anything and everything."

He doesn't feel the same way about DEDA.

"That truthfulness, that connection, that trust, I think has been impaired and violated."

However, Heather Rand, the executive director for DEDA, said that while unfortunate, the news shouldn't come as a surprise to building tenants.

"Our job is not to be landlords, especially to a handful of office tenants," Rand said. "Our deal is to do exactly what we're trying to do right now, and that's redevelop a building so that it continues to stimulate economic development in the city."

The Temple Opera Building was purchased by DEDA in 2010. Packaged together with the NorShor Theatre and an annex, the $2.6 million sale was intended to be the first step in revitalizing what would later be designated as Duluth's Historic Arts & Theater District. During the final months of the renovations to the NorShor, DEDA began seeking out potential buyers of the Temple Opera Building - a move that's come with collateral damage to its tenants.

"I'm a big fan and proponent of all the NorShor renovation work, but this is sort of an unusual side effect of it all. An unfortunate side effect of it all," said Lane Ellis, a digital marketer. "And I was hoping to be able to enjoy the renovated NorShor block. But we all got kicked out."

Also upset she won't get to reap the benefits of the next-door renovations is Katie Erickson, a psychotherapist and the owner of Duluth Counseling Center, which occupies more than 10 offices across two floors.

"We absolutely loved the (Temple Opera) building. It's a very unique, old building and our clients loved it. So we weathered through all of the storms of the construction, and then were pumped when it was done," she said. "There were more places for our customers to park. The noises and the fumes got out of there in May. And then we got a notice."

Erickson said that because of the nature of her profession, her company "lost a substantial amount of business" due to the construction. While her business has rebounded, the move won't make things easier.

The office space that she is moving into costs three times what the Duluth Counseling Center currently pays. She said because of the time constraint, she couldn't wait long before deciding on a place.

"I had no choice. It was the only space that had 10 office spaces that we could make work," she said.

Erickson acknowledged the building has been for sale for years, but stopped worrying if it would be sold.

Rand said because DEDA began aggressively marketing the property in the fall of 2017, it shortened the tenant's lease agreements from two years to month-to-month last year.

"We let them know, the month-to-month was going to be necessary. Our goal was to sell the building, to have somebody redevelop it," Rand said. "To be quite honest, we told them at that time, they should start looking around for usable and viable office space."

DEDA notified tenants in December that it was "evaluating redevelopment options" and again in March stating "it appears likely that a building sale will occur within the next six months."

While Rand wouldn't disclose who the potential buyer of the building would be, she did say they had committed a minimum of $4 million into its redevelopment. They are currently negotiating the terms of sale, hoping to have things finalized by July 25.

Ellis said he understands the decision to sell, but is frustrated by how DEDA went about the sale.

"I had a strong belief that DEDA would want to do what was best for the businesses in this building that have been here for so long, because that's their mission," Ellis said. "I didn't think they would sell it to any group and kick anyone out, which is what they unfortunately appear to have done."

DEDA is mandated by state law to offer compensation for moving costs either through a lump sum payment where the authority estimates what the moving costs would be and pays the recipients up front, or through compensation after the fact with receipts provided by the tenants.

"What I think has happened here is many of (the tenants), they love and cherish that old building," Rand said. "It's hard for them to even emotionally make a change and I understand that."

The Tobeys have found a new location for their business that they say is reasonably priced, but they'll be sad to say goodbye to their current office.

"This has been a perfect place that mirrors the comfortableness, the homeyness, the connectedness. I can relax. I can kick my shoes off," he said.

While Ellis hasn't found a new office yet, he expects to take the lump sum payment when he does. Erickson however has found a new location at the Lakewalk Surgery Center.

"For our clients, change is not easy, but we're just looking forward to a new location," Erickson said, "and if there's any silver lining, we've got plenty of off-street parking in our new location."