For the moment, the way appears clear for the city of Duluth to move forward with the destruction of the Paul Robeson Ballroom and the Pastoret Terrace buildings, formerly also home to the Kozy Bar.
The fire-damaged buildings moved two steps closer to demolition Monday, when the Duluth City Council voted 8-0 to approve a $148,683 contract with Rachel Contracting LLC to take down the buildings, and District Court Judge Eric Hylden did not grant an emergency temporary restraining order to shield the structures from the wrecking ball.
Hylden had earlier ruled that the Duluth Economic Development Authority should be allowed to remove the condemned buildings, which he found to be so badly compromised that they could not feasibly be restored. But Dr. Eric Ringsred, the property's former owner, and a group of preservationists called Respect Starts Here filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In January, Hylden granted a stay of demolition until the appeal could be heard, but he premised it on the plaintiffs posting a $50,000 appeal bond.
So far, the plaintiffs have been unable to come up with the required bond funding, which comes on top of another $50,000 injunction bond already on file with the court, related to the initial court filing. Without the bond, there is no stay to protect the buildings from demolition.
Miles Ringsred, an attorney representing his father, Eric Ringsred, and Respect Starts Here, said his clients can offer the court certified check for $25,000 and hope to cover the remainder of the bond's value by securing it with property holdings. But attempts to do so have thus far proven unsuccessful.
At Miles Ringsred's request Monday, Hylden scheduled an emergency 4 p.m. hearing. But the Duluth City Attorney's Office was never informed of the court proceedings.
A perplexed City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said he learned of the hearing only after the fact and said: "Typically, there's a process that the court goes through so that everyone gets notice and gets to state their side."
Indeed, Hylden, too, was troubled to find the city unrepresented at Monday's hearing and said that normally, "The opposing party would at least be informed so they can show up if they want."
He noted that there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that could justify a departure from that convention when a temporary restraining order is needed to prevent "immediate irreparable damage" and earnest efforts to provide notice had failed for some reason.
Hylden noted that he had received no such documentation from the plaintiffs and said: "I'm not sure I can proceed without something in writing."
Miles Ringsred and William Paul, an attorney representing another plaintiff also seeking to stop the demolition of the Kozy property through a separate case, indicated they will prepare documents with the intent of again seeking an emergency temporary restraining order Tuesday.
After the court hearing Monday afternoon, Miles Ringsred acknowledged the judge's inaction, combined with the City Council resolution authorizing the signing of a demolition contract could render his legal maneuvers moot.
"A lot depends on when they plan to have the wrecking ball ready. It definitely leaves us at risk," Ringsred said.
While Duluth could push ahead with demolition immediately, Ringsred said that it would not reflect well on the city's confidence that its case is strong enough to fend off the pending appeal.
Nothing currently precludes Duluth from moving swiftly ahead with demolition. However, Johnson suggested there's nothing sneaky about the city's clear and deliberate approach.
"No bond has been placed, and so the city has just been moving forward. The city moves like a ship kind of. We don't turn very quickly, and you know where we're turning. So, we're going through our typical process, which includes going to the council, and there will be other processes that will be followed. But we're moving forward as quickly as we can. It's just that we don't move very quickly," Johnson said.
Prior to the council's Monday night vote on a resolution authorizing city staff to execute a demolition contract for the Kozy property, 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress said: "I will be voting for the resolution but not with any enthusiasm. It's the case that the Pastoret Building is beyond the point of salvation, and there really is no alternative but to demolish it."
At Large Councilor Zack Filipovich has toured the fire-damaged buildings and said: "It is unfortunately clear that this building needs to come down. It pains me to say that, because I, as a historic preservationist, do not want to see that. I always want to find a realistic way to restore buildings to their highest and best use, especially a building with such history as the Pastoret Terrace."
"It is extremely unfortunate that the building was neglected, and because of that neglect, it will be demolished with this resolution, pending a few other legal questions.," said Filipovich, expressing his hope that the city can learn from the loss of the Pastoret Terrace Building and redouble its efforts to preserve historically significant structures, intervening before they fall into such poor condition that rehabilitation is no longer a viable option.