City closes deal on NorShor Theatre

The Duluth Economic Development Authority closed on the NorShor Theatre and Temple Opera buildings today paying $2.6 million for the neighboring Superior Street properties.

Mayor Don Ness
Duluth Mayor Don Ness announces Tuesday that DEDA closed on the purchase of the NorShor Theatre and adjacent buildings and plans to move ahead with their renovation. At left is David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. At immediate right is Christine Gradl Seitz, executive and artistic director for the Duluth Playhouse, which will manage the theater. Bob King /

The Duluth Economic Development Authority closed on the NorShor Theatre and Temple Opera buildings today paying $2.6 million for the neighboring Superior Street properties.

Mayor Don Ness also announced a partnership with the Duluth Playhouse to manage the property, pointing to the organization's unique qualifications, including well developed connections throughout the local arts community and the sense of trust it has engendered.

"Without the Playhouse, the NorShor would not fulfill its true potential," said Ness.

Christine Gradl Seitz, executive and artistic director of the Duluth Playhouse, hailed the partnership as a great opportunity, saying: "We're looking forward to returning the NorShor to its former glory."

"The goal is for this space to support a variety of disciplines," said Gradl Seitz, explaining that she sees the theater as a venue for dance, drama, music and film.


Plans call for spending the next couple of months cleaning the NorShor and preparing it for a full slate of events beginning in the fall. But even in the interim, Ness said the theater could host special events. He pointed out that as a venue for the Homegrown Music Festival, the NorShor recently accommodated a crowd of about 800 people.

The actual renovation of the theater will likely take two to four years and could cost $4 million to $5 million by Ness' estimate.

He said restoring the theater could be beneficial for Duluth's Old Downtown neighborhood, as a whole, noting recent nearby private investments in building such as the Zeitgeist Arts Building and the Sheraton Hotel.

"In Fargo, the revitalization of a historic theater was a key to the revitalization of their downtown," Ness said, describing the NorShor as a potentially similar catalyst for Duluth.

Most recently, the NorShor has been home to a strip club, but Ness expressed gratitude for the stewardship the building's prior owners -- Eric and Debra Ringsred -- demonstrated in working to preserve the theater and Temple Opera properties.

Owning the buildings should simplify an extension of the skywalk system that the city of Duluth is obligated to complete. Ness said going around the building could have added $1.6 million to the pricetag of that skywalk link.

Besides managing the theater, the Duluth Playhouse also will spearhead local fundraising efforts for the NorShor. Their goal is to raise $2.6 million on the local level.

The city aims to leverage local support with state bonding dollars. Ness said Duluth will try to get the NorShor included in the 2012 or 2014 bonding bill.


Federal historic tax credits also could be used to help support restoration efforts at the NorShor, according to the mayor.

After the skywalk extension is completed, Ness said DEDA will likely look to sell the Temple Opera Building.

"It's probably in our long-term interests to have the Temple Opera Building back in private ownership," observed Ness, noting that a sale of the building also would enable DEDA to recoup some of the funds used to acquire the block and punch through a skywalk.

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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