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What's next for the Roof Depot site? New renderings show community's vision

With state funding secured, East Phillips Neighborhood Institute is moving forward with its vision for the former Roof Depot site in south Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — The future of the Roof Depot site has been a saga between community members and the City of Minneapolis that has spanned nearly a decade.  

The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) has been fighting with the city to stop the demolition of the vacant warehouse, citing environmental concerns

While the city wanted to demolish the building to expand its public works facility, the community group has been fighting to keep the building and transform the site into an indoor urban farm and community hub. 

Now the city has agreed to drop its plan and sell the site if EPNI can raise the funds needed. 

State legislators helped secure $6.5 million to pave a path forward. 

"This is an amazing opportunity. This is a great, national project. The one thing EPNI and the community board has promised, we will not let you down," said Dean Dovolis, EPNI board president, at a press conference Sunday afternoon. 

Credit: DJR Architecture & Design and East Phillips Neighborhood Institute

During the press conference, EPNI unveiled new renderings for the indoor urban farm and community hub including aquaponics and solar panels. DJR Architecture & Design associate Ahti Westphal said it will be one of the largest solar arrays in an urban space in the Upper Midwest. The space would also include job training sites, services for the unhoused, green jobs, cafes, and cultural markets, and other community gathering spaces. 

"What we have here is very high-level, conceptual ideas but they represent the passion and the feelings that we have as a community about what can just be the beginning," Westphal said. 

The city has agreed to sell the site for its current assessed value of $11.4 million if certain conditions are met.

Under a new agreement made last month, the state of Minnesota will provide a $4.5 million grant to the city to relocate its proposed public works facility, along with an additional $2 million towards the purchase cost for the site this year. 

The agreement between the state and city, which was accepted by EPNI, includes additional conditions as well. 

According to a press release from the city and state, "To ensure the $16.7 million Minneapolis Water Fund is repaid in full, there needs to be an additional $3.7 million raised in private funds by September 8, 2023. If that condition is met, the State will commit another $5.7 million to the City in 2024 and will commit additional funds to fully repay the Water Fund."

Dovolis said community-oriented investors already have the funds needed, "pending inspections and due diligence." 

"We plan to do so well that even Mayor Jacob Frey will come begging to be at the groundbreaking and at the ribbon cutting on this project," Dovolis told community members. 

Credit: DJR Architecture & Design and East Phillips Neighborhood Institute

In a statement, Mayor Frey said, "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... This agreement would move us closer to that goal, address community wishes, and avoid double charging Minneapolis property taxpayers." 

In the past, the city has said the building is "unsalvageable and unsafe." Dovolis, who is an architect, said he was inside the building 6-7 years ago and it was "structurally sound." 

EPNI is hoping the city will give them access to the building in the next week or so to go over the property. 

Construction on the building is expected to cost $10-$15 million and will come from a mix of grants, investors, and loans. The ownership structure will consist of three groups: East Phillips residents, building business tenants, and outside investors. 

If all goes according to plan, Dovolis said they plan on closing and starting construction by the summer of 2024. 

EPNI Board Member Cassandra Holmes said, "We still have a lot more work to do and I hope that everyone still hangs in there and helps us." 

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