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'Bold' projects snag Superior committee's support

The former Princess Theatre and the Carnegie Library top the list of properties. The Superior City Council will make the final decision.

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A customer stops by the seasonal Red Mug Coffeehouse outside the Carnegie Library at 1204 Hammond Ave. Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. The city's historic preservation committee targeted the building as one its main priorities for federal funding.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Superior's Historic Preservation Committee was asked to dream big when making recommendations for spending $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds earmarked for historic preservation.

At their Wednesday, May 11, meeting they choose the restoration of the Princess Theatre and stabilization of the Carnegie Library on Hammond Avenue as their top two priorities.

Princess Theatre

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The former Frankie's Bar, 1310-1312 Tower Ave., has stood vacant for five years. A feasibility study was commissioned by the city with the goal of saving the building that first opened as the Theatre Princess in 1913.
Contributed / LHB

Restoration of the theater, which opened in 1913 and was most recently the site of Frankie’s Bar, is estimated at $1.7 million for bare bones construction to prep it for a buildout, nearly $3 million for a turnkey, state of the art theater ready to receive patrons.

It has the potential to be “the jewel of Tower Avenue,” said committee Chairman Tim Meyer, similar to the West Theater in Duluth. When that venue was opened, he said, other things started to open around it. Meyer saw it as a way to increase property values downtown and attract other investments to the area.

Superior Mayor Jim Paine likened the project to the Superior animal shelter, which was built with city funds and is now operated by a nonprofit. Douglas County currently owns the Princess Theatre building, he said, and it’s a liability.

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“I’m worried it’s going to burn down any day,” Paine said.

It’s not worth anything to the county, the mayor said, and they could release it at any time. Committee member Brian Finstad said it would be a big, bold step, and supported moving “full speed ahead” with the theater restoration.

Carnegie Library

Paine said the Carnegie Library at 1204 Hammond Ave. shares two criteria with the Princess — it has historic value and it’s at risk of not being there much longer due to its condition. The building, the first of 63 Carnegie libraries built in Wisconsin, differs from the theater in that it is privately owned by Superior Library LLC, and the city doesn’t have a plan for it. That makes it a trickier project, the mayor said.

“The only way I see to save it is to have the city buy it,” he said, with a priority on getting the water out of the building as soon as possible.

“It needs a tarp over it. If there’s a way to get a tarp over, I’m talking like within a couple weeks. Every single rain I just cringe,“ Finstad said.

Superior Library LLC gave an estimate of $600,000 to replace the roof with historically accurate terracotta tile. Meyer said that there could be less costly roof materials with similar historic profiles that could be used. The library was completed in 1902 and served the public until 1991, when the library relocated to 1530 Tower Ave.

Other options

Another project discussed was shoring up the facade of the Bayside Warehouse building, which was gutted by fire in January. The site could then be used as courtyard “ruins” an outdoor venue for weddings, picnics, concerts and other activities similar to the Mill Ruins Park in the Twin Cities. Think of it as Big Top Chautauqua surrounded by hotels, Paine said.

The current state of the site presents a potential safety hazard, Meyer said. The cost to temporarily support the remaining structure was estimated at $185,000 and about $15,000 more for permanent support, not including removing rubble.

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Other funds may be available for that project, Paine told the committee, including a historically high first quarter influx of hotel/motel tax money. As an outdoor event venue, it would be a tangible development that the tourism commission might want to explore. The current owners are also willing to enter into a lien with the city, Paine said. The committee approved a motion to engage in negotiations with the owners about saving the facade, with a clause that if the property is sold the city would get its money back.

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The shell of the Bayside Warehouse building remains standing Jan. 14, 2022, more than a week after a fire gutted it. The front facade of the building may be sound enough to be preserved.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Another possible project, restoring the water fountain at Hammond Park, might be a better fit for the parks and recreation commission to tackle, the committee decided. And the city’s museums — Fairlawn Mansion, the USS Meteor and the Old Fire Hall and Police Museum — are already supported with city funding.

Adding an elevator to the old City Hall building on the corner of Hammond Avenue and Broadway Street would be a quick way to encourage development, and the city would be paid back in tax revenue, Paine said. Economic development funding might be available for that project, however.

The committee’s recommendations mirrored public input, at least on the top two priorities. In an online survey, the proposals that received the highest number of points were the Carnegie Library with 62, the Princess Theatre with 61, the USS Meteor with 58 and the Old Fire Hall Museum at 58. The Tower Avenue Arch, Fairlawn Mansion and Old City Hall buildings tied at 57 points each.

At a public forum held April 7 at Thirsty Pagan Brewing, the projects that received the most votes were the Princess Theatre with 30, the Carnegie Library and Fire Hall Museum, tied at 20 each, and the Tower Avenue Arch at 17.

The dreamers will pass their recommendations to the city council, who will make decisions on which projects receive the $3.5 million. Officials set aside $500,000 COVID-19 relief dollars that the historic preservation committee has ideas for, as well.

Committee member Matt Osterlund suggested asking for it “after things start to happen” with the first infusion of funds to garner more support.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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