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Duluth City Council votes to approve demolition of former Astoria Hotel

The council action overturns a previous decision by the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission.

historic hotel pic
Slated now for demolition, the Hotel Astoria at 102 E. Superior St. was built in downtown Duluth in 1905.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Special Collections and Archives
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DULUTH — After lengthy debate and discussion, city councilors voted 5-3 Monday night to reverse a decision by the Heritage Preservation Commission that had previously blocked the demolition of the former Astoria Hotel building at 102 E. Superior St. The commission deemed the building worthy of protection as a contributing structure in an established historic district in downtown Duluth.

But Anne Stratioti, operations administrator for ZMC Hotels, which owns the structure, argued that there was no feasible economic pathway to save the building. She said renovating the now-empty structure would cost an estimated $11.6 million — far more than the building would be worth — and Stratioti suggested financing such a project would be nearly impossible. She also said that with about 25% of downtown properties in Duluth now sitting vacant, there is no real local market for additional commercial property at present.

"We would never make a return on that investment," Stratioti said. She noted that the third floor of the building has remained unoccupied for 93 years since a fire seriously damaged it, and the structure's sewer system requires a massive overhaul.

ZMC has owned the building, which was constructed in 1906, for the past five years. Stratioti said the building has operated at a loss since the acquisition. It was formerly home to the Chinese Dragon Restaurant, Hucklebeary stationery store and Old Towne Antiques.

Stratioti said the now-vacant building could pose a danger to public safety. If it is left standing, she said: "I can nearly guarantee someone's going to break in, and there will be a fire this winter."

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Linda Peplinski, a local preservationist, described Stratioti's public safety concerns as "disingenuous."

Peplinski noted that the building was now empty and an attraction for people without homes only because ZMC had ended the leases of the businesses that formerly occupied the building. "I just can't give much credibility to that argument. It seems very self-serving an irrational," she said.

Stratioti said ZMC has no immediate plans for the property but suggested it could be redeveloped in time, if and when the downtown economy improves. She said rumors that ZMC planned to turn the property into a parking lot were nonsense and impractical.

At Large City Councilor Terese Tomanek said she was conflicted and called the decision "an absolutely no-win situation."

Tomanek ultimately voted to grant the demolition permit and was joined in that decision by councilors Gary Anderson, Noah Hobbs, Hanna Alstead and Arik Forsman.

Voting to uphold the Heritage Preservation Commission's earlier decision to deny ZMC a demolition permit were councilors Azrin Awal, Mike Mayou and Janet Kennedy.

Awal warned the council that its actions Monday night send a damaging message to citizen volunteers who choose to serve the community. "It undermines the roles of our commissions and committees," she said.

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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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