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St. Paul to pay to tear down, store Justus Ramsey House

The historic Justus Ramsey House is going to fall after all. But instead of a wrecking ball doing the work, the 1852 stone house will be dismantled, cataloged, moved from Burger Moe’s patio and put into storage.

The city council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, on Wednesday authorized spending $84,000 to preserve the building until it can be reassembled later. The move removes the pioneer-era stone cottage from the hands of Burger Moe owner Mojtaba Sharifkhani, but launches its ultimate fate down the road.

Sharifkhani, who goes by the name Moe Sharif, “is pleased that there is an outcome that meets the current challenge while ensuring that history is preserved,” spokesman Mike Zipko said. “Moe has always wanted to find the best outcome, and the agreement to move the building to a new location with a new owner is the right way for all of us to move forward.”

On this point, however, the exact details of the future of the chalet remain to be determined.

Don Kohler and Rita Dalbec came forward a few weeks ago, offering to place the structure on vacant land they own farther west on W. 7th Street. Additionally, they said they would invest more than $300,000 of their own money in restoring the limestone structure — provided the city or another entity pays to move it.

Council member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the area, introduced a resolution on Wednesday that would have spent $115,000 to do so. But when it became clear the couple planned to live in the house once it was completed, council chair Amy Brendmoen and council members Nelsie Yang and Chris Tolbert balked. They said they weren’t comfortable subsidizing a private home and wanted more discussion.

Saying that the cabin’s deteriorating condition made it essential to stabilize it now, Noecker changed his resolution to spend $84,000 — the amount needed to take it down, move it and put it away. The destination of the chalet and the money spent to get it there can be debated later, she said.

The city spending public funds to preserve historic private properties has precedent, Noecker said. St. Paul spent $500,000 to help preserve the old Hope Fire Hall, she said — it’s now the Hope Breakfast Bar.

Becoming a private home is a better outcome for the Justus Ramsey House than demolition, Noecker said. And even as a house, she said, the public will have better access to it on its own grounds, with a sign indicating its importance, than it ever did at Burger Moe.

“It’s on private property now, behind a fence, on the patio. People don’t even know it exists,” Noecker said. “Really, the alternative is for the building to be in a landfill.”

Wednesday’s action came a day after a Ramsey County judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the building from being razed.

The chalet is the oldest limestone house in Saint-Paul and is listed on three historical registers. Sharifkhani applied for a demolition permit last summer after a rear wall of the structure collapsed.

City inspectors agreed that the condition of the building made it a potential hazard and recommended its demolition. But the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission in December disagreed and refused a demolition permit.

On Monday, Mayor Melvin Carter sided with the inspectors and Sharifkhani and issued an order authorizing the demolition of the cottage. The Conservatives took legal action and sought a temporary restraining order. After staying at the site overnight, they convinced a judge to sign the order after 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Tom Schroeder, who led the fight to preserve the 170-year-old stone cottage, said Wednesday he was confident the move to Kohler and Dalbec’s lot would work out in the end.

“We all look for simple and straightforward solutions, but they often turn out to be more complicated than we thought,” he said.

The tiny house was built in 1852 for Justus C. Ramsey, brother of Alexander Ramsey, who owned the property jointly with Alexander and others from 1849 to 1852. The first known resident was Robert A. Smith in 1853. Smith is became St Paul’s longest-serving mayor.

The building would later serve as an anchor for St. Paul’s first black community, as a home for railroad porters and traders.

The previous owners of the restaurant had used the cottage as a separate event space.

startribune Gt Itly

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