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The much anticipated demolition of the Midway Shopping Center in St. Paul began Tuesday with claw excavators dismantling the shuttered Big Top Liquors store that was torched by rioters more than 15 months ago.

Leveling the burned-out liquor store will be followed by removal of the badly damaged 16-store strip mall that once housed Office Max, Sally's, Family Dollar, Peking Garden, Footlocker, Rainbow, Game Stop and other stores.

The teardown marks the first step in a multi-year, $200 million "United Villages at Midway" redevelopment project that is expected to rise on the 32-acre site over the next decade.

But the timeline for demolishing the nearby strip mall at 1460 University Avenue is less clear. The permit application "remains pending," but "conversations are ongoing" with the city to get that done, said Suzanne Donovan, spokeswoman for St. Paul's Department of Safety and Inspection.

Donovan said the demolition of the 6,000-square-foot Big Top Liquors at 1544 University Avenue could be completed this week.

Permit applications for both structures were submitted to the city on June 7 but were delayed because of incomplete paperwork, she said.

By the end of June, city officials considered tearing down the structures on the 32-acre site itself, noting that some areas around the fenced-in property had been breached and could pose a hazard.

City leaders eventually opted to see if Ramsey Companies and the main general contractor, Golden Valley-based Mortenson Construction, could find a remedy that didn't require the city to begin hunting for a new contractor from scratch.

Permit application problems are expected to be resolved soon for the strip mall, said Ramsey's demolition project manager JimWutzke.

Wutzke expects both buildings to be torn down before the end of the year but would not be more specific.

With respect to the permit delay for the strip mall, Wutzke suggested the public think of it like "planning a huge wedding" that requires lots of organizing.

"You have all these little things that need to be done to make this happen," he said. "It's real similar with getting a demolition permit. It's a process."

Ramsey Companies must coordinate and obtain additional permits to disconnect water, gas, sewer, electrical and other utilities.

The liquor store and the mall also have deep basements that will be filled in with the mountain of dirt that was trucked in and now sits in the middle of the mall's parking lot.

Both buildings were badly damaged by fire and water during the May 2020 riots and have been a scar on businesses and neighborhoods eager to for recovery and rebuilding to begin.

The mall's property owners and management firm, Rick Birdoff of RK Midway and RD Management Corp. quickly fenced off the property after the riots, and forced the retail tenants to relocate, even those whose stores had little to no fire or water damage.

Some former tenants are now suing Birdoff and RK Midway for breach of contract for not living up to the terms of their lease.

But Birdoff, who could not be reached for comment, has long had other plans for the sprawling property in the heart of the bustling Midway neighborhood.

RK Midway and Minnesota United FC team owner Bill McGuire received city approval in 2016 for a "master redevelopment plan" marketed as United Villages at Midway. Plans call for a large mixed-use housing, office, retail and hotel complex on the site, which sits adjacent to the Allianz Field soccer stadium.

That project is expected to be developed by Mortenson Construction. Officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday and have previously declined to give a time frame.

Business officials in the Midway area said they have been frustrated by the slow pace of re-development at the site. Instead of the development moving forward following last year's fires, the strip mall and liquor store structures sat fenced in, vacant and visibly burned and untouched for more than a year.

"Nobody wants to see condemned buildings in their community, and I welcome the final teardown as a sign of progress," said Chad Kulas, executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce. "I hope future developments will have the interests of our neighborhood in mind."

Lee Krueger, president of the St. Paul Port Authority, said he is looking forward to seeing what becomes of the site.

"If [Bill McGuire] can succeed in his vision, it will be an incredibly positive developmentfor the city," Krueger said.