March 23, 2001: Duluth Economic Development Authority unanimously rejects a proposal to acquire NorShor Theatre

The NorShor Theatre in 1941. (Image: Zenith City Press)

On this day in Duluth in 2001, the Duluth Economic Development Authority voted 7–0 to reject a proposal to spend $1.48 million to acquire the Temple Opera Block and NorShor Theatre from owners Eric and Debbie Ringsred. The idea to purchase the two buildings was championed by Duluth’s two youngest city councilors, Russ Stewart, 36, and Don Ness, 27, who thought the building’s management should then be turned over to “a nonprofit group composed largely of current tenants to manage the facility.” The previous week Mayor Gary Doty said he wanted the city to purchase the buildings to preserve the landmarks. Stewart said that the NorShor “provides excellent cultural and arts opportunities for young people in a city this size.” But DEDA didn’t like the deal, which included the forgiveness of $31,196.74 remaining on a loan to the Ringsreds. Duluth planning director Mike Conlan failed to provide DEDA members with a building inspector’s report on the property, which made DEDA members uneasy about writing a “big blank check,” as member Dale Lewis told the News Tribune. Nine years later, with Don Ness in the mayor’s office, DEDA decided to purchase both buildings for $2.6 million. In 2012, DEDA announced Sherman & Associates and the Duluth Playhouse would “join forces to oversee the transformation of the theater, and future management of the facility.” That project is currently underway. Read about the NorShor’s opening night of July 11, 1941 here.

11 Responses to March 23, 2001: Duluth Economic Development Authority unanimously rejects a proposal to acquire NorShor Theatre

  1. Tony,
    Thanks for your responses! I always appreciate your informative slant on things that are out of reach for you and your short staff, as well as most of us. I know how that is. I agree, any newspaper used to be the main digger into details, especially when it amounts to large city expenditures. However, since their subscriptions are being severely lessened, since the advent of the internet, their time and space is devoted to mostly older news. Don’t ruffle too many feathers. In my opinion, too many of our local population takes the “who cares” approach to things, especially if it does not personally affect them, or their bottom line. We have a relative low information citizenry that only “growls” when its too late as a project is usually better then half way committed to or is on its way. No one is proud enough to broadcast bad news!

    For me to ask someone from city hall for details is like most recently me sending for a response from one of our states congressional representatives in Washington 32 times, and still getting no response. I suspect they don’t wish to comment unless it’s re-election time.

    I am all for preserving historic spaces and structures! You and your staff do an excellent job in keeping us informed and on top of happenings especially when it comes to something we never knew before. I appreciate your educating me more each day and week about Duluth and it’s history! Thank You for your hard work and efforts! Keep up the great work!

  2. Ron,

    As I mentioned, I do not have that kind of data on hand here—you’ll have to ask someone at city hall about the details. I won’t pretend I agree with a lot of decisions that have come out of city hall during the last 15 years. I wish we had a daily newspaper with an investigative reporting staff to look into the details behind these big plans: NorShor, Lester Park Golf course, new or renovated library, etc. Seems we only get a broad perspective from the city, and I would think the newspaper’s role would be to look for the devil in the details. When it comes to current issues, I see Zenith City’s role as providing the historic background/perspective on an issue. We don’t have the staff to do much more than that, and that’s not our purpose.

    On a more positive note, I hear that the Armory folks will have a big announcement by the end of the summer; I’m guessing they may finally have a developer on board. And the city does not own the Armory, as many people still seem to believe, so no money will go into it that could otherwise be used to fill potholes.

    I’ve had fun throwing this back and forth, but I better get back to work. Thanks for adding to the public discourse!

  3. The above article comments that “the majority of the funding will be secured through a financing structure that includes public and private funds,and federal tax credits financing”. What does “majority”, in estimated monetary amounts come to? I believe that to mean “peoples” money. Can you share what is the investment, in monetary terms, Sherman & Associates and the Duluth Playhouse is putting in, other than management expertise?

    Originally,it is mentioned that “DEDA members were uneasy writing a big blank check”. I take that to mean giving Mr. Ringsred $1.48 million dollars without knowing what the renovations cost will be, because of no inspectors report. So, now the renovations costs have already increased $3.1 million dollars in just 15 months, since 2014. And Mr. Ringsred was paid $1.1 dollars million more than his initial asking price, for the property. Since my past career dealt with real estate and building development, and construction, the economies of the scale of this project seem scary to me.

    I have to agree that most of the letter writers to the editor folks must believe that funds can be transferred to other needed projects when needed. I suspect their primary belief is one of, “it’s their money”. Government does not have any money. It only comes from the citizen tax/fee payer.

    This project reminds me of all the issues and opions related to the Armory, as you say, there are too many examples already here in the Zenith City.
    Thanks

  4. Ah, nothing like a good venting of views. Glad to provide a forum for all perspectives. I invite varying viewpoints—just as long as the discussion stays civil.

    Yes, the NorShor project will involve public financing, but the historic tax credit financing comes from state and federal funds set up specifically for the purpose of protecting our cultural heritage. It’s already in place, and if the money isn’t spent in Duluth, it will be spent elsewhere.

    And it’s not as if those funds could be used to, say, fix our streets. They are earmarked for a specific task. (Just like money from one portion of the city budget—say, the parks and library—can’t simply be transferred to street repair, as many of the News Tribune‘s “letters-to-the-editor” writers seem to believe.)

    The one thing this project has going for it is a plan for reuse and financing. I frequently advocate for the preservation of historic properties, but you can’t just “save” a building: you have to have a plan to adapt it for reuse and a way to pay for the renovation, or else it just sits there in less-than ideal condition. Then it becomes an argument against preservation: “See? You ‘saved’ the building, and it’s just sitting there, looking bad, taking up space we could use for a new building on the tax rolls.” And there are already too many examples of that right here in the Zenith City.

  5. Tony, While the funds do not necessarily all come from just Duluth taxpayers,it still involves taxpayer funds, and a large cost associated with a relatively meager return (in my opinion) for the “high” possible $30 million dollar outlay. Granted, historic value is always nice to retain, but at what cost does it make sense to justify? I do not recall seeing any past articles in the Tribune covering the two points I make when addressing the escalation or continued increase in renovation costs, compared to limited audience capacity, adequate parking considerations addressed when the time comes, and future use, or investment returns. What else “all” can be done in Duluth with spending $30 million dollars…. etc. Sorry, I guess I just look at it with a too conservative narrow mindset. I don’t believe Sherman & Associates gets involved in a project without the potential outcome to be any less than very profitable for Sherman & Associates. I am sure they have a history of making sure the juice is worth the squeeze. Thanks for letting me sound off.

  6. Ron, those are good questions, and ones I think past articles in the Duluth News Tribune have addressed over the years. The involvement of Sherman & Associates and the mention of state and federal tax credits indicate that funding is not entirely coming from Duluth taxpayers.

  7. After thinking more about this situation,Is this really a wise possible $30 million dollar cost investment for the city to make? Can anyone enlighten us as to the economic plusses, the anticipated return on investment for tourist attractions to this property, the estimated pay-back term for all the tax money that is needed? Were any of these above issues talked about when the Aquarium was planned? Are there to be any potential sales tax or property tax revenue to be generated, by doing this project? If this project fails to meet its financial responsibilities as to pay back, who is on the hook for subsidising the potential losses? Is the estimated income generated by doing this project guaranteed to at least break even for the projected financial, maintenance, staffing, and utilities investment?

  8. Hopefully for the difference of almost $1.2 million dollars, to make Mr. Ringsred wealthier,and the $25.5 million in renovation costs, will give everyone cause to get the right bang for “our” bucks, for spending “taxpayer” funds, private funds, federal “taxpayer” funds and the like. I suspect that by the time (delays, engineering consultants charges, architectural renderings, etc.) all is said and done, it will cost close to $30 million dollars to house a cultural and arts opportunities location, that only may permit limited audience capacity. What is the future plan to provide adequate parking, in order to hold possible crowded cultural events for this location, if the attractions is what is all anticipated to happen?

  9. I believe there has been talk of a tower on the renovations, which hopefully will start soon. The Orpheum began life as a vaudeville house, so “Legitimate theatre” is a matter of taste!

  10. Like the tower on Historic Old Central High School had nothing to do with education (except maybe learning to tell time?), the tower on the NorShor had nothing to do with seeing movies, but it sure made you feel like you were going to an important place. It’s a shame they took it down. This photo, from a collection passed on by the late George Brown, long-time NorShor manager, was taken shortly after the building was converted from the Orpheum, a venue for legitimate theater, to the NorShor, strictly a movie house.

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