The Legislature has delivered a breakthrough for East Phillips environmental activists in their long fight to block Minneapolis' plans to build a public works facility at the site of the former Roof Depot warehouse, according to the House DFL Caucus.
A $4.5 million grant to relocate the public works project, and $2 million earmarked for a down payment on purchase of the site by the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), a group of residents that wants to redevelop the site into an urban farm, were included in the capital investment and tax bills that passed this weekend.
The EPNI must still satisfy a set of conditions, including repaying $16.7 million that the city has already spent on pre-development work.
EPNI board president Dean Dovolis celebrated the deal as a "dramatic" détente in the nearly 10-year impasse between the city and the neighborhood, which has involved multiple environmental lawsuits and protests to avert demolition of the Roof Depot.
"I credit the intelligence and genius of the community," said Dovolis, of DJR Architecture. "They've managed to structure this deal, create the vision, out-negotiate Minneapolis, get the legislative support for it and wide community involvement."
In a statement, Mayor Jacob Frey expressed gratitude to legislators and state officials for the deal, which he said would ensure clean water for the city and its residents.
"This agreement would move us closer to that goal, address community wishes, and avoid double-charging Minneapolis property taxpayers," he said.
City officials have been planning to expand the south Minneapolis public works campus on the Roof Depot site — consolidating water maintenance staffers, vehicles and equipment in one central location.
Details of the deal were outlined in a letter from Frey and City Council Member Andrew Johnson, chair of the city's intergovernmental relations committee. It states that the city will sell the Roof Depot site for the purpose of becoming an urban farm at its current assessed value of $11.4 million if:
- EPNI privately raises $3.7 million — half of the $11.4 million minus the $2 million deposit —by Sept. 8.
- The state grants the other half of the site's assessed value — $5.7 million — to the city next year, along with additional funds to repay the $16.7 million that the city has already spent on its project.
- Minneapolis is not responsible for further project management or environmental remediation on the site.
EPNI, its allies and investors are now making plans to raise that $3.7 million before the September deadline. They are also planning a block party for June 4, said Dovolis.
"With a third of East Phillips residents living below the poverty line, the community is in great need of affordable housing, investment in jobs and infrastructure, and sustainable development," said Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, in a statement. "While this project will be a long road, I'm thankful we were able to make progress on this investment in our community. I am confident the vision for the Roof Depot will one day become a reality."