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Study tallies costs to save historic Superior theater

Opened in 1913 as the Theatre Princess, Frankie's Tavern downtown could see new life with the right project.

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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 by the LHB feasibility study.

Frankie’s Tavern has stood vacant on the 1300 block of Tower Avenue for more than five years.

Condemned as a danger to human health and safety in 2016 and facing a raze or repair order issued at the same time, the city of Superior commissioned a feasibility study to determine the cost to save the building that opened in 1913 as the Theatre Princess — later the Princess Theatre.

The building is currently owned by Douglas County after being taken by tax deed in 2019.

The city conducted a feasibility study to determine what it would take to do a complete restoration, almost to what it was before, said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director.

“It’s kind of a 20,000-foot view,” Serck said during a presentation to the Douglas County Land and Development Committee Tuesday, Dec. 28.

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According to the study, the facility consists of two structures that utilize the full size of the lots. The northern section, 1310 Tower Ave., is two stories with a raised section where the original stage existed. The southern section, 1312 Tower Ave., has a 60-foot two-story section fronting Tower Avenue.
Since being vacated in 2016 with utilities suspended, building systems have gone through multiple freeze-thaw cycles and have experienced water intrusion through roof leaks, frozen pipes and condensation, prompting LHB to recommend air-quality testing before work begins in the space because of significant mold issues.

And it was recommended that the roof be fully reinforced or completely replaced.

Still, the study said the structure appeared to be in adequate condition with very little adverse movement. Brick on the northern structure had weathered well, but brick on the south has significant spalling.

Estimated costs for construction are more than $1.7 million and total project costs could run from $2.1 million to $2.7 million, according to the study.

“According to this, as well as according to building inspection, the place has really good bones,” Serck said, adding the report doesn’t address every detail but it does provide a good idea to start.

County clerk Susan Sandvick, who has worked with Serck on efforts to encourage redevelopment, asked if the city had any money to offer in those efforts.

“Eventually, it’s going to need some assistance on anybody’s end to do this,” Serck said.

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The city and state have provided funding with other buildings downtown, including the rehabilitation of the Empire Block that formerly housed Lurye Furniture. Without the certainty of a project, Serck said he couldn’t say what that assistance might look like.

“So, this is salvageable, except for the dollar amount,” said Keith Allen, chair of the land and development committee, which oversees the property.

Serck said there has been interest expressed in the building, and he said the next step is to set up a meeting with building inspection, which has a raze or repair order on it.

The last time the city razed buildings downtown was in 2006, when the Palace Theater and two bars housed in the former Ekstrom’s building were demolished at a cost of about $558,555.

“That will be very expensive just because of adjoining buildings, so that is the last thing we want to do," Serck said. "We want to see this history saved, so we’re going to do everything we can to do that.”

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