DULUTH — The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a judgment Monday dismissing claims from a Duluth preservationist group over the demolition of a historic downtown building.
The Duluth Preservation Alliance sued the city of Duluth and a California-based investment company in 2022 and asked the District Court for a temporary restraining order to prevent demolition of the former Hotel Astoria. The court ordered that it pay $60,000 in bond money to secure the order, and the alliance failed to do so. The building came down in late 2022, and the organization continued its complaint.
The preservation group has alleged the city improperly followed procedures when it allowed the City Council to weigh in on a decision made by the Heritage Preservation Commission, a group of city-appointed volunteers. The commission in 2022 denied demolition because of the potential harm to a historic district, and the City Council later reversed its decision.
The preservation group argued that the commission was following state preservation review law for the nationally designated property, and its decision should have been appealed to the state appeals court rather than the City Council.
The District Court in Duluth said it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the preservation alliance's claims under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act.
The appeals court ruling said it was an issue of "local significance," and found the case "moot," in part because the building had already been demolished.
City spokeswoman Kelli Latuska declined to comment on the dismissal. Messages left with attorneys for the preservation alliance and property owner North Creek Investors weren't immediately returned Monday.
The E. Superior Street building housed two shops and a restaurant in its final state.
Preservationists, who accused the company of neglect, had been vocal about saving the building, which contributes to downtown's National Commercial Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places. The 117-year-old Hotel Astoria was built by prominent Duluth architect John Wangenstein.
Its owner has said that the historic features of the blighted building were gone, and rehabilitation would cost millions.
The group has said it continued its challenge because it wants to set a precedent for future demolition requests within the historic district. Several buildings that contribute to the district have been torn down in recent years.
The Astoria lot now sits vacant. North Creek Investors has owned the property since 2017 and has said it has no plans for the land because of market conditions.