Activists in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood say they’re ready to buy the Roof Depot site from the city.
The purchase would be a turning point in the nearly decade-long contention over the Roof Depot. It’s a win for local activists, who want to turn the site into an urban farm, community center and housing for unhoused people.
The city had previously blocked that project in favor of its plan to turn the site into a public works facility.
Dean Dovolis is the president of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), one of the groups that has been organizing to turn the site into an urban farm.
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“I’m quite elated for everyone that was involved in the effort,” Dovolis said. “It’s really the community that got the thing done, along with the help of the state … our dreams are now a reality, and that's a wonderful feeling.”
The Minnesota legislature plans to allocate about $6.5 million in funding for the site — $4.5 million in the capital investment bill will go to Minneapolis for the city to relocate a proposed public works facility away from the Roof Depot site. Another $2 million in the tax bill will go towards the purchase of the site. The legislature expects to pass both bills before the end of the session on Monday.
“I am pleased to see the state and the city partnering together to find solutions for the people and families who live and work in my district,” said State Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, whose district includes the Roof Depot site. “While this project will be a long road, I'm thankful we were able to make progress on this investment in our community.”
The debate over what to do with the site came to a head in the last few months. The city was poised to break ground on the site in February when activists occupied the site for a day. A Hennepin County Judge later ordered a pause in the demolition plans.
Neighborhood organizations feared that the proposed public works site would worsen pollution in the area. The city and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency maintained that the project was safe.
East Phillips is home to Little Earth, a historic Indigenous community in Minneapolis. It’s one of the most diverse areas in the state. Residents and activists called the Roof Depot debate an issue of environmental and racial justice.
“I believe any development needs to be reflective of the diverse communities that call East Phillips home and I am committed to working with the Minneapolis delegation to ensure the community’s vision can come to fruition,” said State Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura (DFL-Minneapolis).
Over the years, the city had blocked the neighborhood groups’ proposals for the site. Earlier this winter, the city council had voted to go ahead with the demolition of the Roof Depot and continue its construction plans. But a month ago, the city said it would be willing to sell the site for $16.7 million if the state Legislature would commit funding — which it’s now poised to do.
“The City’s goal since the start of this process has been to build a facility that allows us to continue to provide clean water to the people of Minneapolis,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “This agreement would move us closer to that goal, address community wishes, and avoid double charging Minneapolis property taxpayers.”
The city and state have reached an agreement for the rest of the funding, which EPNI has also signed off on. The neighborhood organization will be responsible for raising an additional $3.7 million by this September. If they do so, the state will commit another $5.7 million to the project in 2024.
Dovolis says EPNI has some investors and tenants for the site lined up. The group’s next steps are to determine exactly what the site will look like.
Dovolis hopes the long Roof Depot debate will serve as an example of community control of land.
“This is a very significant project for the East Phillips community, but for Minneapolis and greater Minnesota, because this was really a pure community-led effort,” Dovolis said. “This will pave the way for other neighborhoods and communities to really start taking control of their destiny and their future.”