Steps from Lake Superior is Duluth, Minnesota's historic NorShor Theater.
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NorShor Theater/Temple Opera House

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May 7, 2006—The Duluth News-Tribune Declares War on Eric Ringsred ...

Duluth News-Tribune article, part 1; NorShor Theater proprietor Eric Ringsred in the theater's main hall.

"Missed Chances," continued ...

Duluth News-Tribune article, part 2; text plus graphic of spacious main hall in NorShor Theater.

"Missed Chances," continued »


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Chronology of a Controversy: the NorShor debate (May—Aug., 2006) »

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A few snips from the regional discourse
Much, much more—pro and con—on our Feedback pages.

Northland Reader article noting Ringsred's intent to hire out the NorShor as a 'strip-tease parlor'.

Northland Reader article noting Ringsred's intent to hire out the NorShor as a 'strip-tease parlor'.
Source: The Northland Reader Weekly, June [?], 2006

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'Preserve' means to maintain in perfect condition
Source: Unsigned editorial, The Superior Daily Telegram, Fri., June 2, 2006

In his effort to "preserve" the NorShor Theater building, owner Eric Ringsred has found the perfect solution: Turn the majestic old structure into a strip club.

Fortunately, the Duluth physician doesn't own Superior's old Palace Theater. Or an old church building, for his vision of “preserving” historic structures certainly falls short of meeting community standards.

Putting a strip club in the NorShor shows a reckless disregard for what Ringsred purports to promote: preserving the timeless beauty that is present in many Twin Ports structures. It's akin to buying a former church and using it for Wiccan rituals. Whatever is he thinking?

Very likely, he believes that such a shocking act might prompt the city of Duluth, other grantors or those in the larger community to come forth with a fistful of dollars to thoroughly beautify the NorShor—something Ringsred has never adequately done. Although he fashions himself as a preservationist, a man who stands up for all that is good and right in the world of historic structures, the fruits of his labor have left few breathless. Ringsred certainly is no Rob Link, the Technology Village developer he fought in court in a misplaced effort to preserve a block of festering dirty bookstores along Duluth's downtown gateway.

Buying decrepit old buildings and renting them to pornographers is hardly the stuff that puts one's face on a portrait in the local Hall of Fame. Truth be told, such vile acts tend to expose one's true colors.

Hopefully, Duluth officials, NorShor neighbors and all Twin Ports residents will take a united stand against this development. That should include Superiorites, as Ringsred also has owned property here and could well let his bad judgment make its mark on this community. From what he has demonstrated this week in Duluth, Superior hardly needs such help.

If any good can come from of this, it's that Ringsred has allowed the truth to emerge about his intentions and performance. Actions speak louder than words. And the action taken with the NorShor exposes what many have seen but most have chosen to ignore. Investment in the structure has been insufficient to sustain much more than a cheap skin show. This fabulous building deserves much better treatment, and an owner who truly cares.

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Nonprofit would give NorShor shot at success
(Eric) Ringsred has consistently demonstrated he is out of his league.
Commentary by Alan & Leanne Zeppa
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, July 2, 2006

As a preservationist, Eric Ringsred has certainly performed capably and admirably. All Duluthians owe him a large debt of gratitude. When it comes to the NorShor Theatre, however, Ringsred has consistently demonstrated he is out of his league in providing competent management of the facility. Neither does he seem to have the vision or the spark necessary to ignite public sentiment about renovating the building.

Some people might say all this is sour grapes on our part, and we do admit to harboring more than a little pique after reading Ringsred's comments in the News Tribune in May implying he was stringing the Zeppa Foundation along when we were negotiating over a possible sale of the NorShor last year. ("Missed chances," May 7.) In fact, it was partly as a result of those revelations that we pulled out of renewed and promising negotiations.

But we are even more perturbed with Ringsred's comments about how his "unhealthy inclination toward the local arts and entertainment scene has been cured," and statements he has made essentially blaming Duluthians for not supporting the NorShor over the years of his stewardship. Frankly, it suggests Donald Rumsfeld to us, always pointing the finger somewhere else, never at himself and his own failed practices and policies. Having thrown the arts community crumbs over the years, Ringsred now blames them for starving because they don't have money to buy the bakery, especially now that he has decided to convert it into a factory that makes the equivalent of civic rat poison.

But this is not intended as a polemic; rather, it's an offer and a challenge, both to Ringsred and to the people of Duluth. We propose to commit $250,000 of our personal money -- not foundation money -- to purchase the NorShor outright, which we will then turn over to a new nonprofit entity independent of either Ringsred or ourselves. Our understanding is that such a body is currently in the process of formation. This new entity will in turn be charged with coming up with a broad-based community plan devoted to the preservation, restoration and dedication of the NorShor to promote and enhance local arts and entertainment.

We further propose to commit the foundation that bears our name to provide a minimum of $50,000 annually (out of a budget of approximately $200,000 annually dedicated to supporting local and regional performing and visual arts) for a period of 10 years. The latter, of course, is in addition to any grants that might be given to various groups that actually perform in the theater.

Only $250,000? Surely the NorShor is worth more than that. Well, maybe it is. But while on the one hand we applaud Ringsred's efforts in keeping the dream of the NorShor alive for all these years, it is also not our desire to see anyone profit from the bad management and deferred maintenance that have brought that dream to the very brink of collapse. Ringsred has left a very big hole for any nonprofit to dig out from under. And frankly, our hope is that Ringsred will not accept any of the money we are offering, but will instead do the right thing, which is donating the NorShor to the new nonprofit that neither of us has any stake in, and leave our pledge as seed money for the greater effort the new group will need to begin. Nobody ever said that being a preservationist had to be profitable.

But what if, as Ringsred apparently believes, the people of Duluth cannot rise to this challenge and accomplish great things with the NorShor, as communities have with similar buildings in similar condition elsewhere? Well, like they say, fish or cut bait, and it's high time for Duluth to do one or the other. Hopefully, this offer and challenge will be taken up by all parties and a way will be found to achieve the goal of preserving the NorShor and restoring it to usefulness.

But if Ringsred believes that he should reap a more substantial profit from the NorShor and the relinquishing of the vision of his adult entertainment club engenders, well, then, more power to him. But if so, he should at the same time consider surrendering his sadly tarnished credentials as a preservationist working in the best interests of Duluth.

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Alan and Leanne Zeppa of Duluth are trustees of the A.H. Zeppa Family Foundation.

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Our View: A twist of strip laws benefits some, not others, in Duluth
Source: Unsigned editorial, Duluth News-Tribune, July 12, 2006

Did you happen to catch the contortionist the other day? No, not the performer at the NorShor Theatre, who reportedly could touch the heel of her foot to the front of her head and whose act the city considered risque enough to cost the theater's operators a police citation.

That act was pretty good -- or so we heard -- but nothing compared to the contortionist show by the Duluth City Council on Monday. With the help of the city attorney's office, the council massaged an old city ordinance to trump a new state law that regulates where nudie clubs and other forms of live adult entertainment can be located.

Voting unanimously, councilors overrode the state measure (which was written to allow local laws to take precedence) by expanding a city ordinance governing where adult bookstores can be. The widened city measure now also covers the locations of adult businesses such as the 62-year-old Club Saratoga in Canal Park, which had been found to be in violation of the new state regulation.

Well, no more. The well-maintained and trouble-free strip club is in compliance with the new city law -- police officers and city engineering officials went out with tape measures before the council's vote to make sure. The club is, they said, outside the required 600 feet of churches, parks and schools; outside the necessary 400 feet of pedestrian plazas; and outside the required 600 feet of residential zones. Canal Park has residences, including apartments right next door, but no residential zones, a broader legal definition of a place where people live.

While the expanded city ordinance gives a green light to the well-liked Saratoga -- and here comes the contortionist trick -- it shines a red light on the proposed adult business at the NorShor. The thought of staging sleaze at the theater, one of Duluth's historic treasures, had not gone over well in the community. And a "pedestrian plaza" across the street from the NorShor puts the idea on the outs with the new city law. A tape measure could confirm that, too.

Duluth city officials may have been well within their rights to write -- or, in this case, rewrite -- a local ordinance to supersede a state measure; no business should be legislated out of existence, and the Saratoga deserved the exemption. But councilors may have ventured onto a dangerous dance floor by doing so in a way to favor a well-liked business while shutting the door on another one not nearly as popular, especially when adult entertainment purveyors are threatening to take the whole matter to court to challenge the state law.

Let's hope the contortionist act works better for the council than it did for the NorShor.

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Visit our "Feedback" page for a chronology of the recent NorShor Theater controversy »

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