Minneapolis police want to identify and question two people seen at the Bde Maka Ska/Lake Calhoun pavilion just before it was destroyed by fire last week.
Police released images from city-owned surveillance cameras that showed a man and woman sitting and standing by the pavilion minutes before the fire. The blaze is still under investigation, and though storms rolled through the city that night, officials have ruled out lightning as a cause.
“We are not confirming that this is an arson,” police spokeswoman Sgt. Darcy Horn said at a news conference Tuesday. “This is a criminal investigation.”
The fire, which was reported shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday, broke through the roof of the pavilion, where the Lola on the Lake restaurant concession operated. The building was deemed “unsalvageable” by a structural engineer and is expected to be demolished in the near future.
The man and woman were captured by the cameras at the pavilion between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., according to police. Selected images from the video show them around a table, and one shows the man leaning by a pavilion wall in front of what appears to be a sparking object next to a recycling bin and trash can.
Another image shows a dark sedan leaving the area.
One of the photos released shows what appears to be the man holding a long object. Horn would not say what it was.
“We don’t want to add any speculation to those pictures,” Horn said. “We want help to identify the people in those photos for this investigation. And that’s going to be the extent of what we’re going to say right now.”
Investigators may provide a reward for any information leading to the identification of the two people. They are encouraging those with knowledge to call the police’s arson tip line at 612-673-3070.
The pavilion is on the northeast corner of the popular lake and is owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. In addition to the city investigation, the Park Board’s insurance company is also conducting its own investigation and assessment.
Three Park Board commissioners contacted Tuesday said they had not seen the footage from the surveillance cameras.
Fire crews arrived at the pavilion at 3:58 a.m. Thursday, according to a department incident report. The building’s roof collapsed shortly after.
Officials had initially suspected lightning from strong thunderstorms that night. The roof collapse and rain helped crews put the fire out in about 20 minutes.
The blaze caused an estimated $2.2 million in damages, according to the incident report.
The pavilion first opened in 1930. Another restaurant, Tin Fish, was based there for 14 years before it was replaced with Lola on the Lake last year.
After a rough first season, Lola owner Louis King made several changes to the menu and hired a new executive chef. Its second season began May 1.
At the news conference Tuesday, King said he did not recognize the people captured on video and that he learned police were looking for them that afternoon.
“I am troubled,” he said. “It’s one thing for it to be an act of God. It’s another thing for it to be a deliberate act.”
The main thing on his mind, he said, were the people who were expecting to work at the pavilion this summer.
“You can replace equipment, we can get another location, but people’s lives are the most important thing,” he said.
King said he is still looking to serve food at the lake from food trucks and a beer trailer. That could be as early as Memorial Day weekend, according to the Park Board.
The Park Board has yet to decide when the pavilion will be torn down, spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said Tuesday. The area surrounding the building remains closed off.
Staff writer Andy Mannix contributed to this report.