Former Kozy Owner: Sunday’s Fire Won’t Stop Fight with City to Avoid Demolition

Fire happens one week after DEDA proposed $135,000 to maintain building.

DULUTH, Minn.- Sunday morning Duluth Fire crews found what has become a familiar scene on First Street — a fire at the historic Pastoret Terrace Building, old home of the Kozy Bar and Apartments.

“I heard one of the firetrucks go by and I heard a big boom,” said nearby resident Shawn Carr. “You hear gunshots once in a while — just was louder than that.”

The condemned downtown building was once again engulfed in flames and smoke coming from the second floor.

“I actually saw the smoke from my house,” Councilor-At-Large Zack Filipovich said, “and then realized later that it was the Pastoret Terrace Building that was on fire.”

“My first reaction was just: oh no,” he said.

The fire is currently under investigation by the Fire Marshal, and the city plans to update the media on-site Monday.

Starting just before 10 a.m., firefighters spent hours fighting flames on a blighted piece of property that’s seen numerous fires over the years.

The biggest fire of all happened this month 10 years ago, that forced dozens of residents to find a new place to live. Since then, former owner Eric Ringsred lost the building to tax-forfeiture.

“I came down here with a fairly positive attitude and I saw all the firetrucks and the fire at the Kozy. Pretty disappointing,” said Ringsred.

But Sunday Ringsred said his current longtime legal fight to save the Pastoret from demolition by the City of Duluth hasn’t been extinguished, even after this last blast of flames.

“I think it’s worth it on principle,” he said. “Was this single building worth it? Maybe not but I think the city has to change its attitude it has to follow the law. I mean there is a law protecting this just like there is a law protecting wetlands and things like that.”

In August the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled a St. Louis County Judge did not effectively find all uses for a building before approving demolition.

“I think the scope and breadth of what they’re planning on changes,” Ringsred said of the Sunday fire damage.

The vacant structure is now owned by the Duluth Economic Development Authority (DEDA), who just last week approved $135,000 to maintain it, by law.

“This is all the reason why they shouldn’t have made that happen, because of things like this,” Henry Banks said, after coming to check out the blaze.

Banks; founder of the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, is among those in the neighborhood who believe after being battered by years of fires, the Kozy has long overstayed its welcome and even its historic status.

“In my opinion this building needs to go,” he said. “I cannot see investing thousands if not millions of dollars into this particular building.”

“Until we get our acts together from the standpoint that we are going to maintain buildings appropriately and that we hold people accountable who own these buildings,” said Banks.

The Duluth City Council will vote on DEDA’s proposed funding this week. For Filipovich, it’s no easy decision.

“I’ve been a councilor, a DEDA member, and I have the other unique view of being a historic preservationist,” he said. “This building is significant but at the same time we have to be reasonable and practical about whether or not we will be able to adaptively reuse this structure.”

And he believes the fire will complicate things for the Council. “I think there’s going to be a lot of questions being asked. I hope we have some time with the City Attorney to ask some questions about the legal proceedings and how does this relate to that.”

According to the councilor, the longer the Pastoret sits vacant and prone to this kind of damage, the bleaker its future looks.

“There’s going to have to be some action taken whether or not that’s a wrecking ball or something else that will have to be determined,” Filipovich said, “but I think that’s going to have to be determined sooner rather than later.”

Meanwhile back at the fire, Ringsred said he does not point to foul play right now.

“I spoke with the arson investigator a little bit…I don’t believe it was arson,” he said. “But you never know I think it’s just probably somebody keeping warm in there.”

Officials said they have no word on what sparked the blaze, and have been unable to go in and inspect the Kozy building.

Regardless of the cause of the fire, Ringsred said “It’s unfortunate for the neighborhood because the building could be a potential asset in this neighborhood.”

And other neighbors like Carr said every fire that damages the over 100-year-old structure hurts.

“Just sad to see it go. Again,” he said.

Officials with the City of Duluth said firefighters monitored hotspots from outside, due to the structure’s integrity after years of fires and disrepair.

They strongly encourage the public to avoid the area, as water from the fire equipment has frozen making icy conditions on nearby streets and sidewalk.

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