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Kozy decision won't come soon

A judge ordered both sides to submit expert reports in the coming months and set aside two days in July to continue a trial that started three years ago.

File: Kozy Nov. 2 2020
Duluth's Pastoret Terrace building, which formerly housed the Kozy Bar and Apartments, is seen Nov. 2, 2020, after its latest major fire.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A long-running legal battle over the future of downtown's Pastoret Terrace, former home of the Kozy Bar and Apartments, isn't likely to be resolved any time soon.

As the case nears its four-year mark in the courts, Judge Eric Hylden is expected to hear competing opinions on how a November 2020 fire affected the viability of restoring the historic, but heavily damaged and long-troubled building.

Hylden this month ordered the city and Duluth Economic Development Authority to produce expert reports by March 15 in support of their argument that the structure should be torn down. He gave the building's former owner, Eric Ringsred, and a group of preservationists known as Respect Starts Here until April 15 to provide opinions on how it could be saved.

The court will receive updated expert opinions on the condition and feasibility of saving the Pastoret Terrace building before again deciding whether to shield it from demolition.

The judge also set a two-day evidentiary hearing for July 5-6. Essentially a continuation of an April 2019 bench trial, the proceeding will allow the court to hear testimony on the current state of the building and feasibility of renovations.

Depending on a briefing schedule, that likely means it will be at least late summer or early fall before the court rules on the city's latest bid to lift an injunction against demolition.

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The back-and-forth case started in April 2018 and has twice been heard by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Hylden initially ruled in October 2019 that the building could come down, but the higher court overturned that decision and ordered further proceedings.

FILE: Kozy roof
Even with a snow cover, an aerial view of the Pastoret Terrace building Nov. 16, 2020, reveals extensive damage to the roof of the former home to the Kozy Bar and Apartments.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Pastoret Terrace was designed by renowned architect Oliver Traphagen and constructed in 1887 as six luxury townhouses, long before it was converted to a bar and roughly 50 efficiency apartments. Sitting at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East, it has been condemned for human habitation since the first of a series of fires occurred in 2010.

DEDA acquired the building after Ringsred, who lacked fire insurance, lost it to tax forfeiture, and authorities have sought to have it demolished after concluding that there were no viable path toward restoration.

Hylden, following an appeals court mandate that the structure be preserved against any further deterioration while litigation continues, ordered DEDA last January to erect an exterior bracing system to prevent the outward collapse of the First Street brick facade. But that work still hasn't been completed, as the preservationists have been unable to post a $140,000 bond that was ordered by the court to shield the agency from any losses, should it ultimately prevail in the long legal battle.

A deadline passed without payment from backers of the fire-damaged property, but the building won't immediately meet the wrecking ball.

Under the appeals court mandate, Hylden must determine if there are factors other than financial considerations that warrant demolition of the building, which is listed as a contributing structure in historic district. The judge in December agreed to reopen the trial record, noting that the latest fire and passage of time have likely changed the circumstances since his original 2019 analysis.

And no matter how the judge rules later this year, it's unlikely to be the end of the story.

"Everybody knows that, one way or another, the Court of Appeals is going to see this thing again," William Paul, an attorney for the preservationists, said at the last hearing. "Have I ever said anything more obvious than that?"

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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