In an order delivered Wednesday, Judge Eric Hylden has granted a stay that would protect the Paul Robeson Ballroom and Pastroret Terrace buildings, pending an appeal of his earlier ruling in favor of the Duluth Economic Development Authority's plan to demolish the fire-damaged structures.
But those who still hope to save the historic buildings will need to come up with another $50,000 to keep the wrecking ball at bay. That financial burden will fall on the shoulders of the plaintiffs — a group of local preservationists called Respect Starts Here and Dr. Eric Ringsred, the former owner of the properties in question.
"Plaintiffs note, and the court agrees, that without the stay, defendants (DEDA) could demolish the building, which would render the appeal moot," Hylden wrote, noting the possibility that the Minnesota Court of Appeals could overturn his decision.
But citing the continued impact the blighted property will have on the surrounding neighborhood, Hylden also said the court will premise the stay on the plaintiffs putting up another $50,000 for an appeal bond, on top of a $50,000 injunction bond they already have posted.
That will be a tall order, acknowledged Miles Ringsred, an attorney representing both Respect Starts Here and his father, Eric.
As for the prospective additional cost of pursuing the case, he said: "That is definitely going to be a difficult hurdle for the plaintiffs to cross. But since the beginning, they knew this was a likely result of the hearing, in order for them to proceed. So, they're kind of considering their options right now."
Miles Ringsred noted that the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act is designed to empower Minnesotans to protect endangered natural and cultural assets, such as historic buildings like Pastoret Terrace.
"The Legislature passed this in order for citizens to be able to bring these kinds of cases. And having to come up with $100,000 in a year in order to protect a property like this — a public resource like this — I don't know what percentage of people could do that. I would say a vast majority of people would not be able to do so," he said.
The continued negative impact of leaving the dilapidated buildings standing "as-is" was not lost on Hylden, who wrote: "The court has in mind that 2020 will bring a rather large remembrance of the 1920 lynchings in Duluth. The Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial, where many activities will take place, is located directly across the street from this property. The blighted nature of the property will reflect poorly on the area where the remembrance will take place."
Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said he shares Hylden's concern about the mournful centennial that Duluth will observe this summer in the shadow of the Kozy property.
"It's unfortunate that we're probably not going to have the opportunity to clean up that eyesore before Duluth gathers at this memorial to mark the 100-year anniversary of the lynchings. That area of town is going to get a huge amount of national focus, and that dilapidated building is going to be right there, front and center," he said.
Yet he expressed optimism that the Minnesota Court of Appeals will uphold Hylden's decision, ultimately enabling DEDA to remove the buildings.
"So, it's a question of how valuable it is to the Ringsreds to drag this out for another year or so," Johnson said.
He suggested that the plaintiffs could be taking their chances if they put up the appeal bond, noting that the latest bid the city received to tear down the buildings was about $100,000 lower than anticipated.
"So, chances are, in a year, when we win, and we get another bid to tear down these buildings, it will be higher, and we will be able to make a strong argument that our costs very clearly went up. So, that's a big risk for the Ringsreds, and they have to evaluate the strength of their case," Johnson said.
Miles Ringsred called the financial burden the court has placed on his plaintiffs "disappointing." But he predicted the case will continue to move forward.
"I think that regardless, it is going to happen," he said.
"Even if — worst case scenario — the building did get knocked down and the appeal was pending, there is still reason to move forward with an appeal on the same grounds we are currently," Miles Ringsred said.
His clients' ultimate objective, obviously, is to preserve the Paul Robeson and Pastoret Terrace buildings as historic structures. So, Ringsred acknowledged that if they fall short of supplying the needed funds: "The relief we are seeking right now would be unattainable, but there are still numerous reasons we would be moving forward with an appeal."