Drake to be demolished; Red Cross opens center to help displaced residents

Cause of fire remains undetermined

A building damaged by fire is torn down.
Demolition of the Drake Hotel in Minneapolis began to accelerate Thursday. Authorities say the cause of the Christmas Day fire at the hotel remains undetermined after an investigation.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Hundreds of people forced from their Minneapolis apartment building may learn more about their futures Friday. The Red Cross is setting up a help center for the 250 individuals, including many children, who were living at the Drake Hotel until a Christmas Day fire destroyed the building. The future of the building itself is clearer.

The demolition that began several days after the fire has accelerated. And although some officials had hoped a portion of the hotel could remain, Steve Poor with the city’s development department said it’s all coming down.

"When you have a brick building going through a fire, the bricks are rebaked, recooked if you will, at a very high temperature and then with a lot of high-pressure water on them it just compromises the brick a lot more than people realize.”

Poor said the Drake’s destruction will move at a measured pace. And he warns that no one should try trespass. In fact, the structure was too dangerous and too damaged for investigators to reach the second floor apartment where the fire likely began. Minneapolis fire investigator Larry Oker said they’ve been unable to determine a cause.

"Through witness statements, fire movement and intensity patterns and fire growth rate, the investigators at this time have not discovered anything that would indicate that the fire was intentionally set," Oker said.

People either rented apartments or used the Drake as a temporary shelter. Now 29 families are staying at a hotel in Bloomington, while around 40 people are at First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis. But that number fluctuates as people find other places to stay for a night or two and sometimes come back.

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County agencies and nonprofits providing shelter, counseling and other services say the relief work is about to enter a new phase — helping people figure out their futures. That includes finding more permanent homes for those who were displaced.

The Minneapolis Foundation’s Jo-Anne Stately said a fundraising effort has brought in $470,000, an amount they hope to double.

"We hope those dollars will be used to help with rental assistance, application fees, down payments and several months of rent. We want to be flexible because every case is going to be different," Stately said.

The Minneapolis Foundation does not grant to individuals, the foundation executive said. Some of the people who were displaced have said aid is not coming fast enough.

In addition to finding new homes for those displaced, aid agencies are also helping them get through the transition period. Beginning Friday, families will be able to meet directly with county representatives and nonprofits in a center organized by the American Red Cross. Regional director Phil Hansen said each former Drake resident will be assigned an ambassador to find out what they need and walk them to various stations.

"There be things like bus cards, blankets, gloves, scarves, winter apparel. There'll be comfort kits, bus tickets, gas vouchers, a whole range of different services, plus caseworker services provided by the various teams," Hansen said.

The center at Bethlehem Baptist Church is open from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.