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Uncle Loui's Cafe among Duluth buildings eyed for possible future redevelopment

The Duluth Economic Development Authority has deemed the buildings "structurally substandard."

Man walks in front of buildings.
A pedestrian walks by East Fourth Street buildings Wednesday that DEDA declared structurally substandard later that night.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A popular diner could be part of a future redevelopment site in the 500 block of East Fourth Street.

A building occupied by Uncle Loui's Cafe is among several declared "structurally substandard" in a resolution passed Wednesday night by the Duluth Economic Development Authority. The buildings in question are located between 516 and 526 E. Fourth St.

One of the structures, formerly home to Lake Superior Medical Equipment, was badly damaged in a Sept. 24 fire .

Burned out building behind a chain link fence.
A fire extensively damaged the building at 522 E. Fourth St. on Sept. 24. The building housed Lake Superior Medical Equipment and several apartments.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

An analysis by LHB Inc. determined the cost to rebuild the burnt-out structure would be in excess of $1 million.

The same analysis found the Uncle Loui's building at 520 E. Fourth St. is in need of more than $460,000 in repairs, the Daugherty Building at 516 E. Fourth St. requires more than $520,000 in repairs. And the Dunbar Floral and Gifts Building at 526 E. Fourth St. needs nearly $278,000 of work.

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Chris Fleege, director of Duluth's planning and economic development division, said there are no immediate plans for redevelopment of the area, but by approving the resolution Wednesday, the authority was keeping its options open for the future use of tax-increment financing to assist with any future project.

A mini-excavator sits outside a building.
A Caterpillar mini-excavator and a full-sized excavator (not pictured) sit outside the old Dunbar Floral and Gifts building, 526 E. First St.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

"What this provides is it preserves the ability, if there is any redevelopment that's done in this district, it would provide the findings that are required to establish a redevelopment district. So, it's kind of a preemptive action taken by DEDA to preserve the ability for this, because once the structure is demo'ed we can't make this finding, the way the statutes are set up for TIF (tax-increment financing) eligibility," he explained to commissioners.

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Fleege noted that redevelopment need not mean demolition of the buildings in question and could include their renovation.

He said the resolution was not brought forward at the request of any of the involved property owners or at the behest of a prospective developer. Rather, Fleege said city staff instigated it in anticipation that demolition of the building that formerly housed the medical supply business is likely to begin soon.

The properties deemed substandard are owned by multiple parties, including St. Mary's Medical Center, Richard A. Slotness and the Benedictine Sisters Benevolent Association.

Tony Matt, a media relations specialist for Essentia Health, said he was unaware of any redevelopment plans for the properties.

Uncle Loui's did not respond to a query by the News Tribune on Wednesday.

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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