Lincoln Park hotel gets condemnation reprieve

Residents of the Seaway Hotel were not forced to seek new lodging Wednesday, even though a condemnation order had been scheduled to take effect Aug. 1.

Seaway Hotel
The Seaway Hotel in Duluth's Lincoln Park is home to more than 70 people. (2012 file / News Tribune)

Residents of the Seaway Hotel were not forced to seek new lodging Wednesday, even though a condemnation order had been scheduled to take effect Aug. 1.

But their reprieve may be only temporary.

Rick Caya, who owns the building, has appealed the condemnation, and a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 8. Meanwhile, Caya continues to work with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Duluth in hopes of putting together a deal that would provide financing for needed building repairs, including the replacement of a chronic leaky roof.

The hotel and boarding house is home to more than 70 people in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood, but Duluth Fire Chief John Strongitharm said the structure was deemed unfit for habitation, due to water damage, mold and other building safety issues. He said it also remains unclear if leaking water has compromised the building's wiring or if its sprinkler system remains operable amid the falling plaster.

Caya will need to lay out a workable plan to address building safety issues in order to mount a successful appeal.


Even if Caya puts forward a strong proposal, Strongitharm said, "It could take three to five months to fix up the building. The question then is: Do you allow people to stay there, when you still have dangerous conditions?"

If the Board of Building Appeals decides to push forward with the closure of the hotel, city administration will likely recommend tenants be given through the end of August to find a new home, according to Keith Hamre, Duluth's director of planning and construction services.

Caya did not return messages left on his cell phone Wednesday.

Rick Ball, executive director of the Duluth HRA, confirmed that the authority has been in talks with Caya, who he said initially was seeking a low-interest loan to fund somewhere in the neighborhood of $210,000 worth of repairs to the hotel.

Strongitharm said that may be a conservative estimate of what it will cost to bring the building fully up to code. He said city inspectors have yet to conduct a complete assessment of the structure.

Ball said the HRA is waiting to hear more from Caya about the specific improvements he proposes and what resources he can bring to bear himself.

"Right now, we haven't seen a clear breakdown," said Hamre. "We really need him (Caya) to take a comprehensive look at the building, and we hope he will do that."

Finding replacement lodgings for residents of the Seaway Hotel would likely be a challenge, Hamre acknowledged.


"We're dealing with many people who are very low-income and who are in need of housing," he said.

By the same token, Strongitharm said the city can't turn a blind eye to dangerous conditions.

"Sometimes, you have to take a hard line because of safety," he said.

Hamre agreed.

"There's a lot to consider and a lot of needs to address," he said. "But we need to be concerned for the safety of the residents. And right now that's not safe housing."

Nevertheless, Strongitharm remains at least somewhat hopeful the situation could be resolved without uprooting all of the Seaway's residents.

"There's a definite sense of urgency, but I think there's also probably some middle ground to be found," said Strongitharm, describing how repairs might be prioritized to address the most pressing safety issues first.

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