The roof depot site in Minneapolis' Southside Green Zone, an environmental justice community where diverse residents face high levels of pollution. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

The group trying to convert the Roof Depot site in south Minneapolis into a community hub will have two more months to raise money to purchase the vacant warehouse and land from the city. 

The nonprofit East Phillips Neighborhood Institute won a historic battle with the city of Minneapolis in May to turn the site into an indoor urban farm with space for housing and local businesses. The Minnesota Legislature approved millions in funding for the institute’s proposed project in an attempt to convince city leaders to move on from their long-held plans to convert the former Sears warehouse into a public works facility. 

Part of the Legislature’s allocation required the institute to raise $3.7 million by September 7 toward the purchase of the site. That deadline is now extended until November 8 under a purchase agreement approved Tuesday by the Minneapolis City Council’s Business, Inspections, and Housing Committee.

East Phillips Neighborhood Institute President Dean Dovolis said the group needed extra time because they were allowed to enter and tour the property for the first time in July, a vital step in giving potential investors a full picture of the project. 

The agreement with the city set a formal closing date of July 15, 2024. The final cost of the site  will be $11.4 million, according to Erik Hansen, the city’s director of planning and economic development. 

Minnesota legislators approved a total allocation of $12.1 million, split into three pools, to support the institute’s purchase of the property. The 2023 session included $2 million to help buy the building and $4.5 million to help cover the city’s cost to plan for a new location for its public works water yard facility. Legislators also pledged to commit an additional $5.7 million in 2024, contingent on the institute being able to raise $3.7 million on its own. 

Dovolis, an architect and partner at local firm DJR, said the building looks solid. While the roof will need replacing and the building needs rewiring, the bones are good on the nearly 300,000-square-foot warehouse. 

“It’s in pristine condition; the building looks really good,” he said. 

A rendering of the East Phillips urban farm project. Credit: Image courtesy of East Phillips Neighborhood Institute

Dovolis said the institute is successfully recruiting investors and feels confident it will have the money by the November deadline. He and other institute representatives thanked council members for allowing the community project to move forward. 

The city bought the property for $6.8 million in 2016. The city spent a total of $17.1 million on the property, including purchase, design plans, maintenance, and interest payments, according to a data request. 

The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute is also trying to raise around $1 million in pre-development funds for the project, according to Daniel Colten-Schmidt, a funding manager with the institute. So far, the group has raised a total of around $630,000. 

The institute received a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to perform environmental remediation work at the site. The site is now part of the state’s brownfield program that aims to clean up environmental risks like arsenic. The purchase agreement will allow state officials to enter and install soil borings to collect samples. 

Two local law firms, Fredrikson and Byron and Faegre Drinker, are handling the group’s legal setup costs pro bono, Dovolis said. That will include establishing community ownership of the building, he said. Shana Conklin, an attorney from Fredrikson and Bryon, represented the institute at Tuesday’s committee meeting. 

The institute and its allies fought for years to stop Minneapolis from expanding its Hiawatha public works campus on the 7.6-acre site at E. 28th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the East Phillips Neighborhood. 

The neighborhood is one of the most racially diverse and polluted areas in the state, with documented high levels of asthma and heart conditions. The area is home to a former federal Superfund site stemming from a long-defunct arsenic factory that was adjacent to the current Roof Depot warehouse.  

“It’s a matter of utmost importance to this community that has suffered from historic pollution for generations,” said Elizabeth Royal, an attorney representing the institute. 

Andrew Hazzard is a staff reporter with Sahan Journal who focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues. After starting his career in daily newspapers in Mississippi and North Dakota, Andrew...