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Company buys, plans to renovate Last Place on Earth building in downtown Duluth

Duluth-based Titanium Partners LLC has purchased the former Last Place on Earth building in the city's historic eastern downtown with plans to develop upscale retail shopping and more in what once was a notorious head shop.

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The building that housed Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth, seen in March 2015. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Duluth-based Titanium Partners LLC has purchased the former Last Place on Earth building in the city’s historic eastern downtown with plans to develop upscale retail shopping and more in what once was a notorious head shop.

Brian Forcier, president and principal partner in the year-old investment/development company, said plans are still forming for the 9,000-square-foot building at 120 E. Superior St.

“It will definitely be retail on the (Superior Street) level. We’ve had some strong tenant interest,’’ he said. “Our goal is to do something that’s going to benefit the community, to make sure it fits in with that part of town. I really like what’s going on with the energy from the NorShor (theater redevelopment) and that whole part of downtown.”

St. Louis County listed the transaction as closing Aug. 15 for a sale price of $70,000. That’s less than half the original listed price of $169,900.

Forcier said the three-story brick building badly needs a new roof “and some shoring up all around. And that’s why the price looks like such a bargain,” he told the News Tribune.

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Forcier noted the building’s basement is in excellent shape, with garage access to Michigan Street.

The building was purchased from the federal government after it was forfeited by former owner Jim Carlson. It went up for sale in March.

Carlson, 58, is serving a 17 1/2-year prison sentence on charges that he sold illegal synthetic drugs out of the building that had for years been a place to purchase marijuana pipes and other paraphernalia.

Carlson moved his business into the building in 1996 and operated there until he was shut down by authorities in July 2013.

In October 2013, a federal jury in Minneapolis found Carlson guilty of 51 crimes at his trial in relation to the sale of synthetic drugs. Also convicted was Carlson’s former girlfriend, Lava Haugen, on four counts, and his son, Joseph Gellerman, on two counts.

The U.S. Marshals Service cleared out the inventory and removed the store’s distinctive signs after Carlson’s conviction. As significant revitalization projects have progressed around it, the LPOE storefront has sat vacant.

A federal appeals court decision in May denied Carlson’s latest appeal of the building forfeiture, saying it had been filed too late and lacked “good cause.”

“This sale was supposed to go through in June, but our title company finally gave the go-ahead in August, after the appeals were exhausted,’’ Forcier said.

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Carlson’s legal battle isn’t over; a three-judge panel from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in his appeal of his conviction on Oct. 19 in St. Paul.

Kristi Stokes, president of Duluth’s Greater Downtown Council, said the redevelopment of the Last Place on Earth building is another part of downtown’s “major transformation” of late.

“I see this as breathing new life into what had been a notorious building,” she told the News Tribune. “It really stood out as vacant because it was surrounded by all the positive development in that part of our Historic Arts and Theater District.”

Forcier, formerly president of the Duluth-based AtWater Group development company, formed Titanium in 2014.

Forcier said his new firm is focusing on Duluth commercial real estate that offers investment opportunities but that Titanium also has dealings in other areas of the U.S.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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