Activists celebrate after plans to demolish Roof Depot in Minneapolis put on hold

The demolition of a Minneapolis-owned building is on hold while a legal battle continues.

Under a temporary restraining order issued Friday, city crews cannot demolish the Roof Depot building. Thatorder came as part of an ongoing lawsuit that’s been in court since 2020. Friday's decision came after the court denied a temporary injunction requested by opponents of the demolition.

The City Attorney’s Office sent FOX 9 a statement saying, "The order the judge issued Thursday shows support for the City’s position on all counts. His ruling Friday simply allows the court of appeals to review."

Activists and community members in the East Phillips neighborhood celebrated the news of the injunction during a block party Sunday.

"It says that we have a chance, and I think that scares the city, but we're not going to stop organizing. We're going to keep on fighting," said Joseph Vital, a volunteer with the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute.

The community celebration at Cedar Field Park included food and music, and donations were collected for residents. Activists are also raising the money they need to cover the $10,000 bond they have to pay the city for the cost of delaying the demolition.

The empty Roof Depot building sits on a former arsenic superfund site. City officials said the city bought the building in 2016 and wants to turn it into a public works facility. The Hiawatha Campus Expansion project would combine three of the public works locations into one central site.

The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute have other visions for the site, including an urban farm. EPNI volunteers said they’re concerned about the potential health effects of the demolition in the short term. In the long term, they are concerned about the impacts of having more truck traffic in the area, which already has high rates of asthma.

"This is a very traffic congested area. And one of the things that traffic does that's toxic to our lives here is it's one of the main sources of asthma," said Karen Clark, a former state lawmaker and the executive director of Women’s Environmental Institute.

City officials were asked about the traffic concerns during a briefing Friday with reporters. They said the number of diesel vehicles would be low on the site. 

"We do declare that there are diesel vehicles, but the major vehicles that will be coming in and out of the site are both gasoline-powered or electric vehicles," said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the director of Minneapolis Public Works.

Barbara O’Brien, Minneapolis’ director of property services, said demolition is expected to take about a month. Public works officials reiterated they cannot currently demolish the building but can continue site preparation. They said they're confident the demolition can be done safely because the building itself is not contaminated, other than with asbestos, which crews plan to handle.

The city's environmental consultants said they feel city officials have gone "above and beyond typical engineering procedures" to make sure things are done safely.

"Arsenic is – I guess I view it as a very minor issue on this property. The levels pale by comparison to what was on the adjoining property, and that's why the adjoining property was on the state's superfund … from a regulatory standpoint," said Steve Jansen from Braun Intertec during Friday’s press briefing.