City official says plan by tenant to purchase landmark property from investment group is good news for Port
Duluth Trading Co. is expected to purchase the Smith Bros. Marketplace building where the company’s retail shop is located, Port Washington City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday.
“It sounds like they want to get it done by the end of the year,” he said.
News that the company is seeking to purchase the building is good for the city, Grams said.
“You’ll have a local business owner who will now have control of the property,” he said, providing stability for the downtown landmark. “He can control his own destiny.
“He’ll also likely be able to work with (upstairs tenant) Franklin Energy a lot easier when it comes to their lease.”
Company CEO Steve Schlecht was one of two bidders for the Smith Bros. Marketplace building during a sheriff’s auction in August, vying with MIL Acquisition Venture for the property.
MIL, which had foreclosed on the property at 100 N. Franklin St., purchased the building for $2.1 million at the sheriff’s auction.
Schlecht could not be reached for comment.
The Smith Bros. building has long been a downtown landmark, beginning in 1924 when Evelyn Smith installed a fryer in a former harness shop and began making the fish sandwiches that Smith Bros. restaurant became famous for.
For decades, residents and tourists flocked to the restaurant for its fish and lemon meringue pie.
In 1988, the building and business were purchased by Joe DeRosa, owner of the Chancery restaurant chain. It changed hands again in 1997, when the William Goldammer family bought it.
The family sold the building to Lighthouse Development in 2005. The firm gutted the building and renamed it Smith Bros. Marketplace, but it sat vacant until Franklin Energy moved to the second floor in late 2010. Duluth Trading Co. opened on the first floor last fall.
Both firms have long-term leases for their spaces.
Paving the way for the sale, the Common Council will consider removing a clause from the deed that requires a small portion of the property the building sits on to be returned to the city if the structure is not used for manufacturing purposes, Grams said.
“The city must have given it (the parcel) to them when Smith Bros. was built in 1940 or 1941,” Grams said. “But nobody saw it or paid attention to it for all these years.
“When the property changed hands from the Smith family to Joe DeRosa, to the Goldammers and then Lighthouse and the (current owner MIL Acquisition Venture LLC), nothing was done about it.”
The area in question is a 10-by-20-foot piece used for the loading dock, Grams said. Today, there is decking on the parcel, he said.
Image Information: THE LANDMARK Smith Bros. building, once home to the famous restaurant by the same name, is now occupied by Duluth Trading Co., which plans to purchase the property, and Franklin Energy. Press file photo