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NorShor Theatre Fire Adds to Reasons Building should be Restored, City Says

Updated: 02/14/2014 6:11 PM
Created: 02/14/2014 7:19 AM WDIO.com
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

Quick action by firefighters prevented what could have become a downtown disaster. The City of Duluth says a blaze at the historic NorShor Theatre is even more reason to properly restore it.

Firefighters responded to the century-old building on East Superior Street around 4:30 Friday morning. They said the cause was a failed blower motor for the building's heating system and estimate damage at $15,000.

The fire damage was limited to one room on the upper floor behind the theatre's upper auditorium. According to Chris Eng, the executive director of the Duluth Economic Development Authority, the reason it didn't spread is because the room "is entirely made out of clay bricks and...concrete walls."

Much of the building smelled of smoke late Friday morning, but Eng said that's because the blower likely circulated it around the building quickly during the fire.

Duluth Chief Communication and Policy Officer Daniel Fanning said "the reason that these things are happening is because this building hasn't been invested in in a long time."

Fanning and Eng told Eyewitness News that the city bought the building for $2.9 million in 2010. Since then, the city has received criticism about the cost and restoration plans from some of the community and city councilors.

However, Fanning said they've got a tremendous opportunity. "We have a private developer who is stepping up in a huge way and doing a bulk of the work," he said.

According to Eng, Sherman Associates will take over the building in September, and with tax credits and private dollars, will front more than half the cost of the $22 million restoration project. The city is hoping the rest will come from the state.

"This building has a lot of integrity, a lot of character, and it's a part of the downtown that we're really trying hard to revitalize," Eng said.

Eng said construction is expected to begin in the fall.

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