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Ringsred escalates fight against city, newspaper

The former owner of the Kozy Bar building has served a new lawsuit claiming a longtime "conspiracy" to undermine his legal rights.

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Eric Ringsred, former owner of the Kozy Bar building, talks to the Duluth News Tribune Wednesday morning. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Duluth physician and property owner Eric Ringsred has fired a new volley in his longtime feud with the city of Duluth and the News Tribune ahead of a Minnesota Court of Appeals hearing on his latest effort to prevent the demolition of a historic downtown building.

Ringsred recently served a lawsuit on both the city and newspaper, alleging libel and a decades-long "conspiracy" to undermine his preservation interests and damage his professional reputation.

Ringsred, 68, claims in the self-authored complaint that he has been deprived of his First Amendment right to "petition, litigate and speak out in matters of public concern" due to ongoing "harassment and retaliation … in the form of defamatory statements in the news media."

"From 1998 to present, the defendants have waged a running battle with plaintiff Dr. Eric Ringsred over his outspoken activities in support of historic and environmental preservation in downtown Duluth," the complaint alleges.

For the past several years, Ringsred has been engaged in litigation with the city over the future of the building that formerly housed the Kozy Bar and Apartments . Ringsred owned the 1887 Pastoret Terrace building and adjoining Paul Robeson Ballroom, which were ravaged by fire in 2010.

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But he lacked fire insurance on the property and was unable to move forward with renovation plans before he lost it to tax forfeiture in 2015. The Duluth Economic Development Authority later assumed ownership of the buildings and determined them to be beyond repair, planning to move forward with demolition.

Ringsred challenged the planned demolition in State District Court, claiming the city failed to prioritize preservation of the historic structure in accordance with state law. But Judge Eric Hylden ruled there was " no feasible and prudent option for historic renovation ."

A three-judge panel will consider Ringsred's appeal of that decision at a hearing on June 23. Demolition of the building has been halted after Ringsred and a group of local preservationists called Respect Starts Here put up a $50,000 appeal bond in February.

In the meantime, Ringsred served the new complaint on both the city and News Tribune, claiming "false, misleading and defamatory" statements and coverage surrounding both the Kozy saga and his past enterprises.

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Then-Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson speaks at a news conference in front of the Pastoret Terrace building in downtown Duluth in October 2019. (File / News Tribune)

The suit claims former City Attorney Gunnar Johnson made a series of public comments aimed at disparaging Ringsred's reputation and his efforts to preserve Pastoret Terrace. It faults the News Tribune for quoting Johnson and failing to publish the "attractive and practical rehabilitation plans for the Pastoret-Kozy property," among other grievances.

Ringsred also outlines historic events which he said "precipitated defendants' animosity, defamatory actions and retaliation against (Ringsred) and his First Amendment rights." A frequent litigator, he cites his failed effort to stop the demolition of historic buildings to make way for the Duluth Technology Village in the late 1990s.

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Ringsred claims the public statements and news coverage have adversely affected his practice as an emergency room physician, forcing him in 2001 to relocate to hospitals outside Duluth, where there is "less influence by the Duluth city government and the Duluth News Tribune."

Also named as defendants in the action are Johnson and News Tribune reporter Peter Passi.

News Tribune publisher Neal Ronquist and city officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The summons and complaint were served last month, but Ringsred has yet to file it in court. Under Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must do so within one year or the claim will be automatically dismissed.

Ringsred did not return a call seeking comment.

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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