Esmond Building moves closer to demolition, site redevelopment after fire

The fire is not expected to significantly delay the construction of a new apartment building on the site of the former Seaway Hotel.

Esmond Building
Ice covers a wall of the Esmond Building, formerly home to the Seaway Hotel, on Jan. 11, 2022, the day after a fire gutted the structure.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Local fire officials have completed their investigation of the blaze that swept through the Esmond Building, formerly known as the Seaway Hotel.

While Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said it is believed the Jan. 10 fire was started by someone who had sought shelter in the condemned building, the official cause of the fire will be listed as “undetermined.”

“The building is not structurally sound enough for us to do a more thorough inspection to pinpoint the exact cause,” he explained.

But local firefighters had twice before been called to the building at 2001 W. Superior St. to put out small fires started by intruders , presumably to warm themselves in a structure devoid of heat or water utilities.

Thick clouds of smoke pour from the Esmond Building, the former Seaway Hotel, as Duluth firefighters battle a blaze in the building Monday, Jan. 10, 2022
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority owns the Esmond Building, and it was planning to demolish the building, with the needed permits in hand since November.


Jill Keppers, executive director of the HRA, said she had hoped to have the building torn down earlier, but the project encountered delays, due to uncertainties about exactly how the site would be redeveloped and requests by the contractor for additional cold-weather pay for the demolition job.

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“One wouldn’t think it would have been this hard to tear down a building. We’ve been going through all the steps for months to get it moving, and for a variety of reasons, it hasn’t happened. And now we had to face this unfortunate catastrophe,” Keppers said.

Merge Urban Development Group of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, aims to build a new 45-unit apartment building in place of the Esmond, with construction expected to begin in spring or early summer.

Merge Urban Development proposes to tear down the Esmond Building and put up a new apartment building in its place. This is a rendering of what the new structure could look like.
Contributed / City of Duluth

To the best of her knowledge, Keppers said that timeline has not slipped as a result of the fire. Now that the fire department has completed its investigation, she said the insurer will still need to inspect the scene, as well, before demolition can proceed.

Krizaj said the expense of removing the building could be affected by the fire, as much of the debris may now be contaminated by carcinogens and could require special disposal.

But Keppers said she has not been informed of any escalation in demolition costs as a result of the fire.

As for the proposed new housing, Krizaj said, “It’s an exciting project. It looks like a big improvement for the neighborhood, and it’s something that they want and need in that area.”

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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