Earlier last week, the City of Minneapolis indicated it may sell land earmarked for a water facilities expansion in the East Phillips neighborhood to local activists who have fought for years to convert an abandoned warehouse on the site into an urban farm and community business incubator.
Last Wednesday, at a meeting held at the behest of Minneapolis state legislators between City officials and East Phillips neighbors and activists, the City announced they are willing to sell the Roof Depot site. The lot is located on E. 28th Street off of the Midtown Greenway with an abandoned warehouse that the City hoped to bulldoze to consolidate its water maintenance operations. Now it could be sold to the East Phillips Neighborhood Initiative (EPNI) if they are able to reimburse the City for the money it spent on developing the consolidation plans.
The East Phillips Neighborhood Initiative began developing plans for the site in 2014, which include housing and a business incubator serving the neighborhood. The organization estimates it can generate up to 570 jobs and housing for 188 people.
In 2016, the City bought the site to fulfill the ongoing demand to expand the City’s water maintenance facility immediately to the north and to consolidate its Fridley and Northeast Minneapolis sites with the Roof Depot site. Residents and activists are worried about the increase in diesel emissions the project may generate, as well as its potential to disturb arsenic buried beneath the building.
Although it has already completed an environmental review and the project is ready to begin construction, the City cannot begin demolition until the Minnesota Court of Appeals finishes reviewing the project and issues its opinion.
A spokesperson for the City said they spent “at least $16.7 million [from a fund dedicated to building out the city’s water infrastructure] to purchase, plan, develop and prepare the site.” EPNI would have to raise that amount to purchase the building.
Rachel Thunder, an East Phillips community leader and member of the American Indian Movement, said in a statement that the opportunity to buy the building from the City is a victory for environmental justice and initiatives by government agencies to return land they took from Indigenous settlers. “This is a win for the land back movement, for our community, and sets a national precedent for community-driven initiatives in urban areas overcoming environmental racism,” said Thunder.
Rep. Hodan Hassan and Sen. Omar Fateh, both DFL-Minneapolis, have introduced bills in their respective chambers to provide $20 million for EPNI to purchase and prepare the site. Both bills have been heard in committee and can be included in a larger bill addressing capital investment, although time is of the essence with the end of the session only four weeks away.