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East Phillips neighbors rally to save Roof Depot building

The Hiawatha Campus Expansion Project involves combining three public works sites into one and demolishing the vacant Roof Depot warehouse.

MINNEAPOLIS — The East Phillips neighborhood has "some of the worst air quality in Minneapolis," according to nonprofit Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

The city's own Sustainability Division also confirms there are higher levels of pollution and asthma hospitalizations in the area, where 71 percent of residents are people of color.

Knowing this, members of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute rallied outside city hall Monday afternoon.

"It's just really sad that we have to fight this hard," EPNI board member Cassandra Holmes said. "We see it all the time in our community. Kids with asthma. People dying from asthma attacks, from heart conditions."

The group is concerned air quality will worsen if the vacant Roof Depot warehouse at East 28th Street and Longfellow Avenue is demolished. 

"If that building is demolished, the arsenic that's underneath is what's going into the air of East Phillips so it's important that we're out here today to stop this demolition," one of the speakers said.

The demolition is part of the Hiawatha Campus Expansion Project that the city council approved in June this year. The project involves combining three Public Works yards into one, whereby one of the existing yards would expand onto the former Roof Depot property.

After rallying outside, the group moved indoors for the council's Policy & Government Oversight Committee meeting. POGO members discussed whether to start accepting contractor requests for the demolition.

"All this does is allow for someone to give proposals," Ward 4 council member LaTrisha Vetaw said during the meeting. "There's not going to be a demolition or anything happening. This can take years for an actual demolition." 

"Though nothing, you know, no bricks have been demolished right now, we still have not upheld one of the basic aspects of that agreement that we all voted on in June, which was a remediation plan," Ward 2 council member and POGO vice-chair Robin Wonsley responded. "The community deserves to know how this is going to impact them."

Ultimately the committee approved the authorization, sending it to a full council for final say at its meeting Thursday. In the meantime, East Phillips neighbors plan to keep fighting for their vision for the building, which involves keeping it intact.

"A beautiful building that would be a resource for our community where we can grow food, have markets, have places where bicycles can be fixed, have green jobs that pay a living wage," EPNI board member Karen Clark said. 

The rally to "Save Roof Depot" continues Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. outside city hall.

The City is declining to comment on this matter at this time.

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