Judge's Order Allows Demolition of Kozy

Updated: October 07, 2019 10:34 PM

A judge has sided with the Duluth Economic Development Authority in a years-long dispute over the former Kozy building, clearing the way for its demolition.

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The building which housed the Kozy Bar, dozens of small apartments, and a ballroom has sat vacant since a fire in fall 2010.  Eric Ringsred's Temple Corp owned the property but did not have fire insurance, and the property was seized over missed property tax payments following the fire.

"Although the Kozy is an historic building, there is no feasible and prudent alternative to demolition, taking into account public health and safety, even if historic preservation is DEDA's paramount concern," Judge Eric L. Hylden wrote in his order.

Hylden dissolved a temporary injunction blocking demolition and rejected Ringsred's request for a permanent injunction.

The building was first constructed as Pastoret Terrace, a six-unit townhome development, in 1892.  By the time of the fire, it had been divided into 40 to 50 low-income housing units.

An assessment by an architectural and engineering firm found that the building is historically sound but that a historic rehabilitation would require extensive work, including gutting most of the interior.

Judge Hylden's order says the building has been in poor condition for at least 40 years and described the building's current condition as "deplorable" with "entire sections of the building overtaken by pigeons and decay."

Two developers submitted proposals for the property in early 2017, but a DEDA panel rejected both after finding they were not viable and did not meet the goals sought in DEDA's request for proposals.  Ringsred asserted that the panel's reasoning was inadequate and that DEDA had no intention of approving any historic revelopment proposal.

Hylden found the plaintiffs' theory not supportable based on DEDA's previous support of other historic developments in the area.  He wrote that the developers had dramatic funding gaps and their proposals lacked evidence of owners putting equity into the project.

The order noted that Ringsred owns several other buildings in Duluth and has an interest in historic preservation which has brought him into conflict with the city several times.  Hylden wrote that the adversarial relationship between the two sides "seems to be lurking behind every step in this process."

Hylden wrote that he found no evidence to support Ringsred's suggestion that Duluth firefighters did not respond to the 2010 fire as quickly as they could have because it was the Kozy.

Mayor Emily Larson praised the judge's ruling Monday.

"It is in the best interest of the community to reactivate this site with new construction. I have heard frequently from residents who are eager to see something new and positive happen at this corner. This decision helps make that happen," Larson said in a news release.

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