Steps from Lake Superior is Duluth, Minnesota's historic NorShor Theater.
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The NorShor Theater—
It is the Property of the Ringsred Family ...


However, to read recent Duluth News-Tribune articles maligning Eric Ringsred for "mismanaging" the NorShor, one would think it actually belongs to the newspaper, the Duluth city government, or some other public entity—it does not. It is private property—and the Ringsreds aim to keep it that way.

And that's a good thing for the NorShor. Here's the record of the City of Duluth and the Duluth News-Tribune in regards to preservation of our historic theaters:

1963 Lyceum Theater demolished by the City ... just for the sake of getting rid of it. It was considered "urban blight" by the City and Duluth News-Tribune—while anyone with the IQ of an earthworm could see the Lyceum Theater was one of the finest of its kind in the entire U.S.

1970's Lyric Theater ... again, demolished with City funding and support by the Duluth News-Tribune. Another grand old Duluth theater and opera house in the heart of our downtown—gone.

1998 Strand Theater demolished by the City ... again supported by the Duluth News-Tribune, after the City had owned the building for 10 years, doing zero maintenance, finally allowing the roof to cave in. Ringsred actually sued the City to save the Strand and got a court injunction, which the City promptly violated. The empty Strand Theater site stood vacant for 7 years after the demolition. It was finally given to A & L Development (owners of the "Tech" Village) for the price of $1.

Duluth Armory ... another historic Duluth entertainment landmark nearly destroyed by the City after 30 years of neglect and abuse. As with the Strand, the City failed to repair the roof, resulting in huge amounts of water damage to the building. Additionally, the City parked its leaky salt trucks inside, resulting in structural damage. Recently a citizens group has been working hard to preserve the Armory—with opposition by the Duluth News-Tribune.

NorShor Theater ... maintained by the Ringsreds since 1982—with their own money. It looked like the NorShor would have gone down the same path as the other theaters if we had not stepped in to preserve it when we did. No significant damage has happened to the structure or décor under Ringsred's watch. All the features that make the NorShor the NorShor are still intact. A new rubber roof has been put over the lobby and mezzanine area. A new roof is planned for the auditorium. Numerous improvements have been made to seating and to electrical and plumbing systems. The entire basement has been set up with a sprinkler system for fire protection (2000-2001). A state-of-the-art fire alarm system was installed throughout the theater (February-March 2006). All done without public money. All done while paying city and state real estate taxes.

The Ringsreds
522 E. Oxford St.
Duluth, MN 55803
June 19, 2006

***

Response to a meeting of June 14, 2006

Participants: Mayor Bergson, Pam Kramer (LISC), A & L Zeppa (by written communication), and Eric Ringsred.

Thanks to everyone for ongoing interest and concern for the future of the NorShor Theater.

I apologize for not providing you with a copy of my letter to "Old Downtown" shopkeepers (enclosed), outlining 3 criteria necessary for changing the course of the NorShor at this time. Only Pam Kramer, apparently, had received this information.

I realize these obstacles may be insurmountable at this time, especially point #3 pertaining to Jim Gradishar's lease, which is not under my, nor the City's control.

Assuming the best, however, please allow me to respond to the Zeppa proposal.

First: Sale vs Lease of the NorShor. The Ringsred family is not interested in a sale of the NorShor. A lease of 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 years or even more—maybe. The NorShor was not offered for sale by the Ringsred family and recent negotiations with the Zeppa Foundation and others has only led to misunderstandings and hard feelings. Past history (see below) and current events go against an outright sale. Jim Gradishar has offered market rate rental, and that is all I would ask of the arts community. Nothing more, nothing less. This seems fair.

Second: Condition of the NorShor. Shall we compare it to the Fargo, best of its class? Or to the Lyceum and Lyric, which were both demolished by the City? To EXPECT the Fargo, is to expect every science student to be Einstein.

A fairer perspective came by way of Keir Johnson, manager of the Zeppa Foundation: "Compared to the Armory, the NorShor is a palace". And by Mayor Bergson, perhaps the best comparison of all, to the Palace Theater in Superior. The Palace was owned and maintained by the same company as the NorShor, and ceased its cinema operations on the same day in 1982 as the NorShor. Mayor Bergson said, "The Palace has crumbled ... beyond repair". The NorShor is in serviceable condition, and that is why Jim Gradishar has been keen to rent it.

Third: Non-profit operation of the NorShor. The Ringsreds have earned, yes earned, the right to be a little skeptical.

Experience #1: Little mentioned nor remembered is the non-profit board organized by Eric Ringsred and NorShor supporters in 1984 made up of superb individuals like Adrienne Josephs (who raised millions for WDSE Channel 8); Walter Baeumler (namesake of the Baeumler Holocaust lecture series, predecessor to the UMD Center for Human Rights); Anne Lewis (now chief legal counsel for SMDC Hospital System); Heidi Tim-Bijold (city planner/developer for both Superior and Duluth); Ted Ringsred (now chief legal counsel for 3M's pharmaceutical patent division—supervising litigation worldwide); and a half dozen others less well known but equally competent. With successes at the Fargo firmly in mind, this talented group was unable to duplicate their success.

Experience #2: In 1989 the Ringsreds did sell the NorShor to Harlan Quist's non-profit "Theater in the State", who single-handedly raised an amount approximately equal to that now proposed for the NorShor. To this date, we've not seen anyone who comes close to Quist's artistic energy, ambition, and vision—yet ultimately the Ringsreds were never paid anything and ended up with a $100,000 lien on the property.
Fourth: A little respect for Jim Gradishar. Even though we all may be morally superior to Jim and his family, they have stuck out their necks financially like no one else since Harlin Quist; they have been doing very fine work inside the NorShor; and they currently hold a lease/management agreement on the property—which makes them essential to any proposed future development.

Let me finally say that whatever direction the NorShor might take at this time, let us do our best to respect each other's view points; play hard and fair for what we believe in; let's keep name calling out of this; shake hands afterwards; and not take ourselves too seriously.

I have a feeling that the NorShor will still be around long after we are all gone.

Yours truly,
Eric Ringsred

One more thought: The Duluth Armory is a truly endangered structure, equally historic as the NorShor. The Armory has desperate need of City and private support. Given a limited pool of resources, I think it is fair to say that any funding committed to the NorShor makes it more difficult for the Armory. Please consider supporting the Armory.

***

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 store front 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 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, assist Jim 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

***

The Strange Odyssey of My Recent Letter to the Duluth News-Tribune in Support of Eric Ringsred
Special to EricRingsred.com
by Tom Cox

This may all seem like ancient history since these events took place before the current brouhaha over strip clubs (aka Free Speech rights), but I thought it might be worth telling anyway.

The Sunday May 7, '06 Trib article "Missed Chances" by Sarah Henning, alleging "mismanagement" at the NorShor among other fatuities, infuriated me.

Eric's an old friend and Henning's piece, almost from top to bottom—photos, headlines and subheads, weirdly negative focus—seemed gratuitously unfair.

The piece was also lengthy, with a lot of parts not to like (I thought), and it took me a couple of days to draft a response in the form of a Letter to the Editor of the paper. I e-mailed it the following Wednesday evening at 7:43 p.m. The text of that original letter forms Appendix A below.

Now, a monkey could pilot the space shuttle sidelong through the editorial lattitude created by the self-serving caveats in the News-Tribune's letters policy, so I had no particular hopes for my admittedly steamy note. I sat back and waited, expecting no more or less than to be contacted with at least a "yea" or a "nay" as to publication, perhaps within a couple of days.

What happened was disturbingly neither "yea" nor "nay". It was, in effect, "maybe".

Thursday, Friday and Saturday came and went. I began to wonder where my letter had gone. I was more than a little surprised no one else had bothered to respond to Henning's droning, unctious sensationalism, but, hey, it's a free cou--, well, ok, let's not go there right now.

Sunday's (May 14) paper contained the Alan Zeppa Letter to the Editor further excoriating Ringsred.

Tuesday May 16 at 10:10 a.m. I again e-mailed the Letters editor, as follows:

Letters Editor (Not for publication):

Now that you've published Alan Zeppa's piling-on letter in support of S. Henning's NorShor article—bourgeois sanctimony upon bourgeois sanctimony—perhaps you could explain to me why you haven't published mine of 5-10, contra Henning? (That letter is copied below.)

[Copy of my original letter]

Tom Cox
[Address, phone, etc.]

A couple of hours later I received a call from Chuck Frederick of the Tribune editorial staff. He was quite sorry but was pretty sure they'd never received my letter.

Whatever.

So, after I responded successfully to the obligatory questions (Did I write the letter? Is it exclusive to the Trib? etc.), Mr. Frederick assured me it was on its way to publication. I did ask for and got his assent to two minor modifications: replace "the" in "the yearly $1,000,000 Nobel Prize" with "her"; and change the asterisked "*not*" to italics.

I thought the letter would probably be in the next day. How hard could this be? These people do this every day, right? Besides, *I* didn't lose my letter. And the story was growing old enough  that the number of people remembering the issue was fast dwindling to nil. (The printable of my thoughts.)

The next day, Wednesday 5-17 came and went. Thursday, ditto, until at 4:26 p.m. Robin Washington of the News Tribune editorial staff called. (However, I was away from the phone and received this as a voice message a couple of hours later.)

He really thought, Mr. Washington explained, that my letter would make its point better if I stuck to the "factual" critique of the first half and deleted the latter half where I "go into fantasy" (twice referencing in this denigratory fashion my obvious parody of Henning's style). There was something garbled in the last sentence of his transmission about hearing from me, then going ahead and publishing the piece. I thought nothing more of it.

I phoned back, suppertime now, getting his answering machine. I instructed him that, while I was willing to consider his points, if we hadn't connected by today's deadline to further discuss the matter, that he should just run the letter as written, earliest.

"Earliest," you'd think, might have been Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but you'd be wrong.

Monday 5-22 at 11:24 a.m. I received another phone call from Robin Washington, again attempting to persuade me to expunge the latter part of my letter. The first part alone made my point, he averred, and the "fantasy" (again he used that word) of the latter part merely made the letter longer. And brief letters were easier to find a spot for in the editorial page layout ...

To make a long story less long, Washington agreed finally to just publish the damn thing, which blessed event occurred on the following Wednesday, May 24—two full weeks after its submission, eight days after the Trib admitted having it in hand, and 10 days after Zeppa's "piling-on" letter, published the weekend after Henning's article.

It had some relatively minor but telling editorial changes made to it to de-snark it, which you can see by comparing Appendix A (the letter I sent) to Appendix B (the letter as published).

Appendix A

To: letters@duluthnews.com
Re: S. Henning on Ringsred/NorShor, 5-7-'06

Sarah Henning's mile-wide, inch-deep take on Eric Ringsred's quarter-century stewardship of the NorShor Theater ("Missed Chances," DNT 5-7-'06) was unrelentingly slanted. Not least, she never misses an opportunity to fail to mention there likely wouldn't be a NorShor to muckrake about if Ringsred hadn't babysat it for decades. Talk about "missed opportunities."

Truly substantive, friendly interviews with Ringsred and supporters might have been interesting. Instead, we got a hatchet job filled with odoriferous innuendo, selective quotes and thought errors.

"... Ringsred and NorShor lien holder Arno Kahn have ignored offers of grant assistance" which, however, "the NorShor wouldn't have qualified for ... anyway." Say what?

"[Paperwork lapses mean that] a nonentity owned the NorShor for nine years." So ... Ringsred, et al. are *not* liable to critique for those nine years?

"A history of instability."  Oo. The coup de grace: intimations of madness.

Monday's uppercut ("The Art of the Possible," on a couple of 'successful' theater rehabs) after Sunday's body blow was another nice humanitarian touch. Open wound, add salt.

Worse, Henning herself evades disclosure: she has repeatedly failed to donate even so little as half of the yearly $1,000,000 Nobel Prize for Literature to help NorShor advocates make a go of it.

This inexplicable and negligent failure may be simply because, since at least 1982, Henning has actually failed even to win—even to win—the Nobel Prize for Literature! Not even once!

And yet, how hard can this be? We all know the recipe. Write good, then apply. Has she even applied?

Meanwhile the NorShor goes inexorably to pot while Henning, year after year, mismanages even this minor bit she could do to save it.

Missed chances? Hm-m.

Tom Cox

***

Appendix B

Slanted NorShor stories hacked venue's steward
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, Letters to the Editor, May 24, 2006

Sarah Henning's mile-wide, inch-deep take on Eric Ringsred's quarter-century stewardship of the NorShor Theatre ("Missed chances," May 7) was unrelentingly slanted. Not least, she never misses an opportunity to fail to mention there likely wouldn't be a NorShor to muckrake about if Ringsred hadn't baby-sat it for decades. Talk about missed opportunities.

Truly substantive, friendly interviews with Ringsred and supporters might have been interesting. Instead, we got a hatchet job filled with odoriferous innuendo, selective quotes and thought errors, such as:

"... Ringsred and NorShor lienholder Arno Kahn have ignored offers of grant assistance" which, however, "the NorShor wouldn't have qualified for ... anyway." Say what?

"(Paperwork lapses mean that) a nonentity owned the NorShor for nine years." (So Ringsred, et al. are not liable for those nine years?)

"A history of instability." Ooh, the coup de grace: intimations of madness.

The May 8 uppercut, "The art of the possible," on a couple of "successful" theater rehabs, after the initial body blow was another nice humanitarian touch. Open wound, add salt.

Worse, Henning herself evades disclosure: She has repeatedly failed to donate even so little as half of her yearly $1 million Nobel Prize for Literature winnings to help NorShor advocates make a go of it. This inexplicable and negligent failure may be simply because, since at least 1982, Henning has failed even to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not even once!

And yet, how hard can this be? We all know the recipe. Write good, then apply. Has she even applied?

Meanwhile the NorShor goes inexorably to pot while Henning, year after year, mismanages even this minor bit she could do to save it. Missed chances? Hmm.

Tom Cox

***

The Equally Strange Fate of My Second, Most Recent Letter to the Duluth News-Tribune in Support of Eric Ringsred
Special to EricRingsred.com
by Tom Cox

Below are, first, the version of my letter published (hacksawed) by the DNT and, second, the letter as originally sent. I'll let you decide as to what manner of editing it is that requires changing the actual point of view of the author unasked, and all the other weird changes made by the DNT's editorial page staff. My original was e-mailed July 4 in response to the Zeppas' scandalous "Commentary" of July 2. Its receipt was acknowledged by DNT July 6 (Editorial page editor Chuck Frederick), but the letter was not published until July 19. (Never mind trying to get a timely rejoinder into the DNT, no matter how outlandish the accusations against 'your side'. Unless, maybe, your name is Alan Zeppa ... but that's yet another story, for yet another day.)


Offer for NorShor must be comedy act
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, Letters to the Editor, Wed, Jul. 19, 2006

Consider this a note on tact to Alan and Leanne Zeppa in response to their July 2 commentary, "Nonprofit would give NorShor shot at success."

Call me crazy, but a buyer making a serious offer (and not the petulant, conniving offer made by the Zeppas in their commentary) to Eric Ringsred, asking him to donate his NorShor Theatre, probably shouldn't riddle the offer with accusations the seller is managerially "out of his league," lacks "vision or spark," and intends to make of the place a "factory that makes the equivalent of civic rat poison." Or that the seller has brought the "dream of the NorShor" (whatever that is) "to the very brink of collapse." Or that the seller underestimates civic resolve and is, to boot, a "sadly tarnished" preservationist in league with Donald Rumsfeld.

Ow. I think I just felt the price go from "free" to "lots." Who's the public relations guru here, Caligula?

Also, every time I tell a clerk at the new Zeppa Whole Foods Co-op that I'm going to pay for my Fair Trade CheeseNoggins out of my "personal money," not my "foundation money," she looks at me funny. Ditto when I put my crumpled bill in the collection plate at the new Zeppa Unitarian Church. I'm not even going to mention the new Zeppa Renegade Comedy Theater. (Wow. Is there humor just in a name?) Or Marshall School's new Zeppa Fregeau Auditorium.

The Zeppas admitted big "sour grapes" after earlier talks with Ringsred, then disingenuously denied now "polemic(izing)." Polemicizing? That's more low-balling. How about "slandering" and "whipping up public sentiment for a taking?"

Frankly, after due consideration, I doubt anything in the terms of the offer -- certainly nothing in its method -- is genuine.

Maybe Ringsred felt the same.

Tom Cox

***

Letter to the Editor for Publication [my original letter, as sent]

To the Letters Editor:

A note, on tact, to Alan and Leanne Zeppa (re: Commentary, 7-2).

Call me crazy, but as Buyer making a serious offer--not the petulant, conniving one you make--to Eric Ringsred to donate (!) his NorShor Theater to my unproven scheme, I probably wouldn't riddle it with accusations that Seller is managerially "out of his league," lacks "vision or spark," and intends of the place a "factory that makes the equivalent of civic rat poison."

Or that Seller has brought the "dream of the NorShor"--whatever that is--"to the very brink of collapse." Or that he underestimates civic resolve and is, to boot, a "sadly tarnished" preservationist who is in league with Donald Rumsfeld.

Ow. I think I just felt the price go up from "free" to "lots". Who's your P.R. guru, Caligula?

Too: Every time I tell the clerk at the new Zeppa Whole Foods Co-op that I'm going to pay for my Fair Trade CheeseNoggins out of my "personal money," not my "foundation money," she looks at me funny. I'd definitely scrap that ploy when trying to make points about my expansive liberalness with the po' folk.

Ditto, when I put my crumpled bill in the collection plate at the new Zeppa Unitarian Church. I'm not even going to mention the new Zeppa Renegade Comedy Theater. (Wow. Is there humor just in a name?) Or the new Zeppa Fregeau Auditorium.

You admit big "sour grapes" after earlier talks with Ringsred, then disingenuously deny now "polemic(izing)." Polemicizing? That's more low-balling. How about "slandering," and "whipping up public sentiment for a taking."

Frankly, after due consideration, I doubt anything in the terms of your offer--certainly nothing in its method--is genuine.

Maybe Ringsred felt the same.

Tom Cox

***

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