Steps from Lake Superior is Duluth, Minnesota's historic NorShor Theater.
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The NorShor Experience

Chronology of a Controversy: the NorShor debate »
Feds: State, City strip club laws likely unconstitutional »
NorShor show can go on (Duluth News-Tribune, Aug. 2006) »
NorShor Experience sues Duluth, State over bogus strip club laws (July 2006) »
Lawyer to Duluth: 'Lay off NorShor, or face malicious-prosecution lawsuit' (July 2006) »

Regarding the NorShor Experience
A reply to Old Downtown merchants
by Eric Ringsred

NorShor Theater marquee Several among the NorShor "neighborhood" have expressed substantial concern over the recent opening of a nude cabaret in the NorShor Theater. These concerns have been heartfelt and sincere. What follows is a heartfelt and sincere reply.

So here is my apology, explanation, and critique.

The Apology

I am sorry that so many of you were caught by complete surprise. To a certain extent so was I.

Original plans called for opening the NorShor Cabaret [aka, the NorShor Experience--Ed.] in July or August, but advice from the NorShor management team and their attorney called for an immediate opening and phase-in period. This occurred rather suddenly.

Over the past month I did discuss this idea with at least one of the existing storefront tenants at the Temple Building, the Temple Building management at Oneida Reality, as well as my wife Debbie, whom I consider a pretty good barometer of the average citizen. None of these expressed any major concerns.

Beyond that I don't think that any amount of discussion, right up to a neighborhood referendum, would resolve questions as to the effects. Nothing short of opening will do it.

Again, I apologize to many of you, my friends, that may have been caught by surprise and wish for input on this matter.

The Explanation

The Ringsred family has struggled to keep the NorShor open in one form or another for 24 years.

We were recently excoriated for "missed opportunities" by the Duluth News-Tribune in a dramatic front page exposé of NorShor 'mismanagement'. Those "opportunities" were largely the wishful thinking (fabrications?) by the editorial staff of the newspaper—people who are here today, gone tomorrow. They have an agenda. They control the message.

The most recent of their "missed opportunities" came by way of a local foundation in 2005, who proposed to multiplex the NorShor into a number of small theaters ranging in size from 100 to 250 seats. The Ringsred family did not consider this an "opportunity" which did justice to the NorShor architecture.

The other proposals for the NorShor over the past year have been for a church, for a special events venue, and variations on the bar or nightclub theme. None have come forward with funding or a concrete plan, except for Jim Gradishar's NorShor Cabaret, which he calls the "NorShor Experience," apparently modeled after a locality in Las Vegas.

My own personal, natural, historically unhealthy inclination toward the local arts and entertainment scene has been cured, (for the umpteenth time) by two events at the NorShor in the past month, namely, the Homegrown Music Festival and a concert by local promoters. Both produced zero income, significant expense, and garbage to clean up afterwards.

Jim Gradishar and the "NorShor Experience," on the other hand, who will be operating the NorShor Cabaret under a lease/management agreement, has made a significant financial commitment, has expressed the utmost respect for the NorShor history and décor in his proposal, and the utmost in care and craftsmanship in work already undertaken.

Isn't that ironic for such a maligned business?

The Critique

The real threat to Old Downtown or, as some call it, "Old Town," is not a nude cabaret—we have survived well enough with the Last Place on Earth openly advertising drug paraphernalia and "adult toys"; with a substantial pornography section in Carlson's Downtown Book for 25 years; with public drunkenness between the Lake Walk, Red Lion, Kozy and Downtown Liquor; and many ruined lives and businesses due to gambling addictions played out at the Fond du Luth Casino.

The real long-term threat to downtown and your businesses—in particular if you are a "Mom and Pop" affair—is the city government, gentrification, increasing property values and real estate taxes, leading to increased rent, and the skywalk system leading to a decrease in street level traffic.

The city's involvement in "Old Downtown" to date:

1985—Demolished historic buildings including the CH Oppel block, to construct the casino parking ramp. (Opposed in court by Eric Ringsred, suggesting some portions of storefronts and businesses be retained. Zero support from the neighborhood, historic preservation community, nor anyone else in the entire city of Duluth.)

1998-99—One square block of "Old Downtown" destroyed for the Technology Village. (Opposed in court by Ringsred—once again, Zero support from the neighborhood, historic preservation community, and most everyone else in the city.)

2005—A&L Development vacates all business from another block of Old Downtown and proposes demolition. (Opposed in court by Ringsred—once again, Zero support.)

2006—City proposing skywalk through Old Downtown—i.e., a major change in retail traffic, with major esthetic effects on the historic district. (Once again, Zero concern from the neighborhood, and the historic preservation community.)

Moving Forward

If we aspire to be a world-class tourist and convention venue, the NorShor is capable of supporting a world-class cabaret venue. Or do we aspire to something less?

The most productive avenue at this point in time would be to wholeheartedly support Jim Gradishar and the "NorShor Experience," give honest and positive input, and assist Gradishar in utilizing under-utilized portions of the theater for continued community programming such as boxing matches, etc., that fit into a Las Vegas-type venue.

With a positive attitude, the NorShor Cabaret will be a positive addition to this neighborhood. A negative attitude will be self-fulfilling.

Eric Ringsred

***

Old Downtown Duluth Letter to Dr. Eric Ringsred regarding NorShor Strip Tease Parlor
5/31/06

Dear Eric,

As members of the Old Downtown business community and residential neighborhood we must profess our deep disappointment with your initial decision to house a strip tease parlor within the NorShor theater. With this letter, we ask that you reconsider this plan out of respect for those of us who have invested ourselves in the idea of a vibrant and healthy Old Downtown Duluth.

We applaud your efforts on behalf of the preservation of Duluth's historic landmarks. In the past, you have stood up against the misguided and shortsighted business decisions that would have been to the detriment of Downtown. Yet your recent unilateral decision will most drastically affect the small, independent business owners struggling month to month.

Eric, through the property you own, you have power and influence over our lives. The decisions that you make have a direct and immediate personal impact on our ability to sustain our businesses and our pride in this neighborhood. We beseech you, do not use that power to impose such a negative effect on our lives.

We are invested in Old Downtown because we believe in the vision of arts, entertainment, and small businesses thriving in a safe and inclusive environment. For so many years you have been an advocate for our cause and in turn, we have supported and defended you. We ask you, to reconsider and pull the plug on this misguided idea. Are you really willing to move ahead with this plan at the expense of the very people you have so often championed and aligned with in the past?

Please, Eric, do what is right. Stop this project today. Use the power that you have and help us create and promote a positive vision that will ensure the success of Old Downtown. We would appreciate your response to our request by next Monday, June 5th.

Sincerely and with hope in our hearts,
Old Downtown Business and Community Members

***

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