Safety versus history: Apartment Building in Duluth sparks conversation about vacant buildings

Safety versus history: Apartment Building in Duluth sparks conversation about vacant buildings
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 10:25 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN. (KBJR) - The Brownstone Apartment building on East 4th Street caught fire Friday night, forcing the entire building to be condemned due to a lack of utilities.

The building has drawn recent attention from the Duluth Preservation Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving buildings that have historic value in the Duluth Area.

Jessica Fortney, President of the Duluth Preservation Alliance, said the building was erected in 1899, and holds both historic and cultural significance.

“It’s unique, it’s very much in style of what we think of when we think of historic Duluth, and it was a housing development made for everyday people,” she said.

The Preservation Alliance recently marked the apartment building on its list of Endangered Historic Buildings.

They believe the architecture of the building tells a story and deserves to be renovated.

“Keeping the exterior looking the way it does and really celebrating it and showing the little details of it,” said Fortney.

Duluth Fire’s Deputy Chief of Life Safety, Jon Otis, said the department conducted a thorough investigation of Friday night’s fire over the weekend.

They determined an electrical problem sparked the fire.

Despite the damage the building suffered, he believes the building is structurally sound and has the potential to be revitalized.

“A lot of these buildings were built with really heavy timbers, they were built with heavy masonry, they’re very well built structures. It takes a lot to really affect the structure of these buildings,” said Otis.

Otis said the department has seen too many vacant buildings become fire hazards after years of neglect.

“When people walk away from the building because they don’t want to deal with it anymore, that’s when we seem the most problems,” said Otis.

OneRoof, a Duluth non-profit, bought the building 5 years ago as part of a development project.

The remaining residents were scheduled to move out by the end of the month, but the fire forced them out early.

OneRoof plans to hold a press conference Tuesday, where they’ll unveil future plans for the building and the development project.

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