Mar 2, 2023 - News

Minneapolis wants to demolish The Roof Depot but neighbors have concerns

A water tower with Roof Depot

The Roof Depot site in Minneapolis is the center of a hot debate. Image courtesy of Google

A long-vacant former Sears warehouse in South Minneapolis is at the heart of a decade-long debate in the city that boiled over last week.

What's happening: The city wants to demolish the building in the East Phillips neighborhood near Hiawatha Avenue and replace it with a municipal public works facility.

  • But the nonprofit East Phillips Community Institute (EPCI) and its allies are pushing to turn the 230,000-square-foot building into an urban farm and community hub instead.

Why it matters: The project has inflamed neighbors and activists who say the demolition will stir up arsenic from pesticides stored at the site nearly a century ago.

  • They also say trucks coming and going will pollute the air for years.

State of play: The city has contended that it can demolish the building, which it bought for $6.8 million in 2016, without releasing contaminants. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Agriculture have approved the plan, and the city was poised to begin the demolition last week.

  • On Tuesday, activists attempted to occupy the property. But police cleared the site within 12 hours, according to MinnPost.
  • But on Friday, a Hennepin County judge blocked demolition temporarily to give the institute time to pursue an emergency appeal.

The big picture: The Roof Depot has divided elected officials. Mayor Jacob Frey and a slim majority of council members have supported the idea of a public works facility.

  • Other council members have been fierce opponents, and four state representatives from Minneapolis introduced a bill that would give $20 million to the urban farm. That bill passed a House committee yesterday in a 6-5 vote.

The latest: Last week, three council members filed police reports alleging that activists physically threatened and intimidated them for not voting against the project, according to the Star Tribune.

  • An activist also filed a complaint against a council member for damaging their cell phone case during a contentious exchange.

What's ahead: EPCI's board president Dean Dovolis told Axios that his group quickly raised the $10,000 the judge required to continue their appeal.

  • The city has offered to give some of the land to the institute for its urban farm. Dovolis said there are alternative sites for the maintenance facility.

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