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Judge rules Duluth's fire-damaged Kozy building may come down

Decision cites crime, blight, threat to public health posed by structure

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Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson speaks during a press conference in front of the former Kozy Bar building at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East Monday. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
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It appears the way will soon be clear for the Duluth Economic Development Authority to move forward with the demolition of the former Kozy Bar building at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East, following a decision by Judge Eric Hylden.

The city has sought to tear down the fire-damaged building for months, but Eric Ringsred, its former owner, and a group called Respect Starts Here, brought a suit to block the destruction of the structure . Ringsred and the group called for the building, which was originally known as Pastoret Terrace, to be preserved and restored as a historic structure.

After more than a yearlong legal battle, Hylden ruled that the building is so badly deteriorated that it is beyond salvation.

In his decision, Hylden described the Pastoret Terrace building as "a blighted property, full of pigeons, charred walls and wet ceilings."

He also said it attracts crime and solid waste, concluding: "The Kozy has come to the end of the line. With no feasible and prudent option for historic renovation, it must come down. "

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Ringsred said he thinks there are grounds to appeal the decision but said he wasn't prepared to go into detail until he had more time to review the ruling, declining further comment for the moment. Ringsred lost ownership of the building in 2015 as the result of tax-forfeiture proceedings.

Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson called the decision "pivotal" in the prolonged efforts by Ringsred and his supporters to prevent the redevelopment of the property. He noted the legal back-and-forth over the building has involved three separate cases filed over the course of more than three years.

"The court talked about how with blight comes bad behavior and found it credible that the public safety and welfare of the city of Duluth has been adversely impacted by the deteriorated, deplorable state of this building," said Johnson at a news conference in front of Pastoret Terrace Monday afternoon.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson issued a statement Monday praising the decision. “It is in the best interest of the community to reactivate this site with new construction. I have heard frequently from residents who are eager to see something new and positive happen at this corner. This decision helps make that happen,” Larson said.

Although the decision comes with nearly a monthlong stay, Johnson said: "Once that 30 days has passed, as long as there are no other court decisions or court orders that come in the meantime, the city will now be allowed to take down this building."

When the stay expires, Johnson said the city still will need to go through a series of steps to obtain necessary permits and to arrange for the salvage of certain architectural elements with guidance from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office. Then, there's also the matter of hiring a qualified demolition firm, but Johnson said: "We're going to move forward as quickly as possible, because it's important to remove this blight from our city to move forward with a new project that brings new life to this area and addresses some of the long-standing concerns that have come with this building."

Pastoret Terrace originally was designed by prominent local architect Oliver Traphagen to serve as luxury townhomes in 1887. But over time, it was subdivided into a number of small, low-rent units. A structure also was tacked onto the front of the building that became home to the Kozy Bar, a frequent trouble spot for police calls. Since a fire in 2010 , the Pastoret and adjacent Robeson Ballroom have been condemned for human habitation.

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Related Topics: REAL ESTATE
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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