Minneapolis Roof Depot demolition halted for now

People hold signs and speak during an Earth Day march
A general view of the old Roof Depot building on Earth Day, 2022.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

Updated: 5:22 p.m.

A Hennepin County judge ruled Friday that the City of Minneapolis may not move forward with a planned demolition next week of the empty Roof Depot site in the East Phillips neighborhood.

The city wants to use the space to construct a public works facility. Residents who oppose demolition have proposed alternatives for the site such as an urban farm, a community center and a site for tiny homes to shelter unhoused people. 

The group sued the city in 2020 saying the demolition poses pollution hazards. The city has maintained that it will employ soil remediation experts to clean up the site and have said the process would be safe. 

At a media availability after the judge’s ruling, Minneapolis public works director Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the city has done its due diligence.

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“We would not be going forward with this project if the City of Minneapolis did not believe it was a safe project and a project that is going to improve the area,” she said.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesperson Michael Rafferty said in an email to MPR News that the agencyreviewed and approved the project's response action plan for the portion pertaining to air monitoring for potentially impacted soil. That plan also outlines measures for dust control and other air monitoring activities which should minimize airborne dust from the potential disturbance of soil during the demolition.”

Earlier this month, Judge Edward Wahl denied the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute’s (EPNI) request for a preliminary injunction saying there was “insufficient evidence” to show that contamination would be dispersed throughout the neighborhood. 

The neighborhood group filed an appeal and requested a temporary restraining order be issued while the appeal makes its way through the courts.

Wahl granted that motion Friday, temporarily stopping the demolition scheduled for next week so the case can be heard by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. However, Wahl did not back away from his earlier ruling on the contamination risk.

East Phillips is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Minnesota, where 70 percent of residents are people of color and 30 percent speak languages other than English at home. It is home to Little Earth of United Tribes, a large and historic urban Native American community.

Activists occupied the site earlier this week and were removed by police. They also interrupted a Minneapolis City Council meeting on Thursday where council members reconsidered moving forward with current plans for demolition, but ultimately decided to move ahead.

Judge Wahl ordered the plaintiffs to raise money to cover some of the cost to the city to delay the project and secure the building, giving them two weeks to raise funds for coverage through a $10,000 bond.

EPNI is calling the temporary injunction a “win” for East Phillips and Little Earth.

“We thank Judge Wahl for recognizing the need to pause the city’s plans to begin demolition next week,” reads a statement posted on Instagram. “We will continue with our appeal process while consulting with community members to determine next steps.”

As a part of the conditions of the temporary injunction EPNI will tell community members that no one should enter the Roof Depot property or building. 

It is not yet known when the Court of Appeals will hear the case.