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Inside the Astoria: A tour of the historic building owners say is possibly headed for demolition

Astoria Hotel in Duluth, MN
Astoria Hotel in Duluth, MN(KBJR/CBS3 Duluth)
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 8:13 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN -- This past spring, the owners of the old Astoria Hotel on Superior Street closed the building with the intent to demolish it.

ZMC Hotels purchased the building in 2017.

At the time they made their intentions for the property clear to the city of Duluth.

“We knew we wanted to demolish the building someday,” said Anne Stratioti, Operations Administrator for ZMC Hotels.

ZMC wanted to one day develop the property but had no timeline for when that would happen.

For a few years, they continued to rent the space to tenants and make repairs when needed.

“If you walk through and you walk around the building and look at it closely, you can see that there’s a significant amount of stuff that would need repairs, or need to be replaced,” said Stratioti.

Structural damage to the exterior has only gotten worse over the years, with cracks in several support columns and collapsing brick archways causing concern for public safety.

In addition, a large part of the building’s third floor still has fire damage visible from a fire that took place almost a century ago.

“The brick is all charred, the windows have been boarded up since the fire in 1929,” said Stratioti.

Two major sewer leaks in the summer of 2021 led the owners to re-assess the viability of the building.

They determined the exterior of the building would cost $2.4 million dollars to repair, and additional repairs to the interior could cost several million dollars more.

“The deterioration in the building has been going on for decades. This building was on and off the market for years prior to us purchasing it,” Stratioti said.

The extensive cost of repairs is something Stratioti says will never see a return on investment, so ZMC opted to pursue demolition.

Based on the city of Duluth’s requirement that utilities be turned off before a demolition permit could be issued, they asked tenants on December 10 to move out, and by March, they had all vacated.

Early this year while tenants were vacating, ZMC was informed by the city that ZMC would also have to go through the Heritage Preservation Commission in order for the city to issue a permit.

Preparations for demolition have continued in the meantime.

“We have taken out all the hazardous material. We’ve taken out all mercury and asbestos, you know anything that cannot be part of a demolition process. And we are continuing to file for some additional permits,” said Stratioti.

On June 13, Stratioti and a lawyer addressed Duluth’s Heritage Preservation Commission, seeking approval to demolish the building.

Talks stalled when the Commission requested they come back with a better idea of what it would cost to renovate the interior and restore the building to a usable space.

Stratioti doesn’t believe renovation of the building is worth the cost.

She said she respects Duluth’s history but doesn’t think the building in its current state serves that legacy justice.

“The buildings that are here on the rest of the block are absolutely lovely buildings. They’ve got beautiful architecture; they’ve got good purpose. This building does not belong. It does not have good purpose and it does not have beautiful architecture anymore,” she said.

The next meeting with the Heritage Preservation Committee is July 11.

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