Owner Talks Future Of Fire-Damaged Esmond Building

DULUTH, Minn. — It’s been two days since a major fire tore through the condemned Esmond Building in Lincoln Park.

Insurance and fire crews need some time to tend to remaining work after the fire happened, but that has allowed some plans to emerge, revealing the future of the site.

“Duluth is on the rise and housing is in demand so if we get more housing that’s great, it’s a shame to see a historic building get demolished but if they were going to demolish it anyway,” Michael Wolf, a local musician and Duluth native said earlier, as he was taking photos of the buildings exterior.

The damage the fire caused to the Esmond Building isn’t slowing plans down, as the plot of land it sits on is all that matters when it comes to redeveloping Lincoln Park.

“The fire is not the way we wanted the Esmond to come down so were really looking forward to being able to complete that process, get that building turned over to merge hopefully as early as the spring, and summer they can start with their development,” Executive Director of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), Jill Keppers said.

But as it’s the second fire in the last 2 months, with previous ones starting from squatters. The current owners, the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), are hopeful to turn this one around quickly, as vacant buildings in Duluth always pose a challenge for owners.

“Despite all the methods to secure using all of the methods that’s recommended by the fire department and our crews, people are creative, and they find a way to get in and stay warm, so I always recommend the warming centers that are available for people experiencing homelessness,” Keppers said.

The plan now is a multi-floor design, with commercial and retail space on the first floor, and affordable housing above.

They showed us one example of what the new building could look like.  Wolf reacted to the new site plans by saying, “Hey that’s what we need around here you know, affordable housing and this is an up and coming neighborhood, so commercial space is awesome,” he said.

Duluthians can expect the rent to be based off of 80% of the area median income, but some residents tell us they hope the investment in this property will continue to grow the Craft District of Lincoln Park.

“Duluth needs more affordable housing all the time, this is a nice level of affordability, it’s not the deep subsidy that were seeing that other places might have, so this should really work for our work force down there, it should really be helpful for the businesses that operate in Lincoln park,” Keppers said.

For local musician Michael Wolf, he loves the neighborhood and playing live in Lincoln Park, and is excited for what’s to come.

“Before COVID, I played a lot more here, there’s all the breweries and cider houses and they all have live music and yeah so it’s a great neighborhood so we look for the best,” he said.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority plans to put fences up around the property in the next day or so to discourage people from breaking in again.

Demolition won’t start until the insurance and fire crews have completed their investigations.

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