Major restoration work on a historic auto dealership now located in a Downtown Duluth entertainment district appears close to completion and owners say they will begin marketing the space this spring.
The former Lange Motors building has been under major renovation work for more than four years at 206 E. Superior Street. The two-story, 23,000-square-foot building, which once housed Carlson Used Book and Record, is located in the Downtown Duluth Historic Arts and Theater District.
Building owners plan to finish renovations, market the property and have new tenants in place by the time East Superior Street reconstruction is complete in 2020.
“I would say we’re 90 percent of the way toward finishing,” said OCH Bookstore LLC partner Robb Majeski. “We’re rehabbing the shell of building, getting it ready to market, and then when we lease the space we will be able to finish it out.”
OCH Bookstore LLC, based in Altoona, Wis., and its general contractor Hoeft Builders Inc. are currently completing $325,000 in building upgrades, according to a city of Duluth construction permit.
New plumbing, bathrooms, electrical and other interior building work is wrapping up, said Majeski. Exterior work like new windows, roof repair and brick restoration were launched in 2014 under Duluth-based bar and restaurant developer Rod Raymond.
OCH Bookstore LLC partnered with Raymond on the project until late last year when it took full ownership, said Majeski. Raymond, who owns Fitger’s Brewhouse, Burrito Union and several other Duluth establishments, confirmed he sold his interest in the project and will lease the Lange Motors basement off Michigan Street as a storage garage for Brewhouse operations.
“There’s been some starts and stops on this project over the years but it’s been about a year now that we’ve seen things really moving forward,” said Majeski. “We’re excited about it.”
According to the Duluth history website Zenith City Online, the Lange Motors building was constructed in 1915 and served as a showroom and service center for a variety of automakers — including REO Speedwagon — until the 1950s. The building housed restaurants, a state motor vehicle office and an auction house among other things until it was taken over by Carlson Used Book and Record in 1987. Carlson closed in 2003 and two other short-lived book stores followed before the building was emptied.
St. Louis County records show Raymond and then-partner Tim Nelson doing business as OCH Bookstore LLC purchased the abandoned building in 2010 for $400,000.
The Lange Motors reopening will coincide with East Superior Street road construction. The city of Duluth plans to close Superior Street to traffic between Lake Avenue and Fourth Street East this spring as it installs new sewer lines, utilities and roadway. The street is scheduled to reopen in the fall with full project completion in 2020.
The street project will bring new sidewalks, landscaping and pedestrian amenities to the HART District. The Lange Motors building sits across the street from the restored NorShor Theatre and just west of the Zeitgeist Arts Center, two HART District anchors.
Zeitgeist Arts Center Executive Director Tony Cuneo said he was excited to see new tenants at Lange Motors. He said the refurbished building should add to the activity and strength of the neighborhood.
Cuneo said more retail businesses, more housing and upper level office space would all be welcomed additions to the district. He said creating an interesting street level experience is important.
“Something that people can interact with as they’re walking by,” he said. “Something that continues to make the neighborhood feel vibrant, used and alive.”
Cuneo said new life at Lange Motors and an improved Superior Street will help improve downtown.
“We’re excited about the street opening up and continuing to improve connectivity to the rest of the city,” he said. “This district has a lot to offer. If the right things are coming in that helps bring more people here and that’s good for the city and good for us.”
Cuneo said he would like to see more housing of all varieties incorporated into the downtown landscape. “Good housing in any commercial district is the strongest ingredient for long term success,” he said. “After that, specifically here, I do think we could use more retail.”
Practical retail like a grocery or hardware store would help serve a growing downtown residential population, he said.
Majeski said OCH Bookstore LLC is waiting to finish reconstruction and organize a marketing plan before targeting specific tenants for the Lange Motors building.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “It’s been time consuming to get all the right things done but that just makes the project better when it’s complete.”
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