June 30, 1998
John Kaptonak of Mulcahy Inc. installs sheets of drywall to the ceiling of the main floor of the new KBJR-TV building in Canal Park on Jan. 27, 1999. This area will house the station’s studios. The station excercised an option to buy the building in June 1998. (Dave Ballard / News Tribune)
KBJR TO BUY, RENOVATE GE BUILDING
KBJR-TV Channel 6 has exercised an option to buy the GE Supply Building in Canal Park and plans to occupy it by next spring.
The 20,000-square-foot building at 246 Lake Ave. S. is about the same size as the station’s longtime home at 230 E. Superior St., which was damaged by fire Dec. 14. The GE Supply Building has more flexibility, said Bob Wilmers, the station’s president and general manager. "We’re going to be able to configure it more efficiently," he said.
Preliminary plans call for a "Today" show-type news set with large windows where the public can view newscasts. A "news patio" and the possibility of a deck for weather forecasts will also be added, said KBJR’s architect, Paul Winship of Architects IV.
The roof line will be modified to partially conceal satellite dishes. The design was approved earlier this month by the city’s Downtown Waterfront Mixed Use-Design Review Committee.
The two-story office-warehouse building has two tenants, GE Supply and Walker Display Inc., which will relocate, Wilmers said.
He wouldn’t say how much the station will invest in the building or spend on renovations. KBJR, which is owned by Granite Broadcasting, plans to close on the sale Aug. 1.
KBJR reached an agreement with its insurance company on its claim for the burned-out building on Superior Street and got the go-ahead to buy the GE Supply Building last week, Wilmers said.
KBJR occupied the Superior Street building from 1954, when it began broadcasting, until the fire. Wilmers said the station will sell the building and that several parties are interested.
Employees are excited because they finally know where the station’s permanent home will be, according to news director Dave Jensch. "We’ve been sitting still since December wondering what’s going to happen," he said.
Since the fire, KBJR has been operating from three sites. Administrative offices are in US Bank Place downtown, engineers are at the Duluth Antenna Farm and the news and promotion staff works at the WDSE-TV Channel 8 studios on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.
KBJR moved to its Canal Park offices in June 1999. Here is some coverage of the fire at the station’s previous building:
Dec. 15, 1997
Chuck Hatfield with Amendola Construction carries in plywood that will be used to cover windows that were blown out during Sunday night’s fire at the KBJR-TV studios, 230 E. Superior St. (Bob King / News Tribune)
FIRE, EXPLOSION KNOCK KBJR OFF AIR
A two-alarm fire with at least one explosion rocked KBJR-TV Channel 6 late Sunday night, knocking Duluth’s NBC affiliate off the air.
General manager Bob Wilmers said that an engineer and a newsroom
employee were inside the building at about 11:39 p.m., when the fire
No one was injured in the blaze, but police said several firefighters were knocked to the ground by the blast which threw shattered glass and debris onto East Superior and Michigan streets.
The explosion appears to have been caused by a backdraft, said Fire Marshall John Strongitharm.
"It was louder than hell," said Clayton Hanks who is staying with a relative at the Greysolon Plaza across the street. "The whole building kind of bounced. The glass hit everywhere. There’s glass spread out from the windows all the way across the street."
The engineer smelled smoke coming from an air intake. He alerted his co-worker. They left the building after calling 911.
Wilmers said he’s just grateful everyone got out of the building safely.
He will meet with station officials early this morning to discuss temporarily broadcasting from the station’s transmitter on the hill.
Even if the studios and offices are severely damaged in the fire, it will be possible to broadcast network programming from that transmitter. If they’re able to salvage any equipment, they may still be able to have a local news broadcast, he said.
The cause of the fire is unknown.
Firefighters from at least two stations, downtown and Lakeside, responded.
Assistant Fire Chief John Keenan confirmed that no firefighters had been injured in the blast, or as they continued fighting the fire as of 1 a.m. He couldn’t comment further.
Extensive remodeling to the building, including suspended ceilings, caused problems in fighting the fire, Strongitharm said. The building had no sprinkler system. Damage to the building was expected to be extensive.
Firefighters are expected to be on the scene most of today.