Council approves deal to sell Roof Depot site to EPNI

Council approves deal to sell Roof Depot site to EPNI

Council approves deal to sell Roof Depot site to EPNI

There’s a new agreement and a new beginning for the former Roof Depot site in south Minneapolis.

“The deal’s done. We’re moving ahead,” says Dean Dovolis, board chair of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, or EPNI, a community group. “We have the agreement. It’s show time.”

The Minneapolis City Council on Thursday voted 9-0 to approve terms for an $11.4 million purchase agreement for the sale of the site to EPNI.

“It’s been so many years in the works, fighting to try to get this community support for their vision,” declares Council Member Andrew Johnson, from Ward 12. “It feels like a huge victory. That said, there’s more work to be done.”

The deal involves three funding sources:

Dovolis says he’s optimistic about EPNI’s plans for an urban farm at the site.  

“Now, we’re basically recreating the future of East Phillips by this project,” he notes. “It’ll have up to 500 jobs and economic benefits in the multiple millions.”

The city says EPNI has agreed to give a status report on its fundraising efforts on Friday.

The agreement gives the group a 60-day due diligence period to commit the $3.7 million into an escrow account by Nov. 8.

“I think the biggest thing — from my outside perspective looking into this organization — is them securing the full funding and having it in hand and structured and all of the contracts lined up for the improvements on the site,” Johnson says.

The journey to this point hasn’t always been a smooth one.

There have been protests by community members concerned about traffic and pollution issues if the site were to be turned into a public works maintenance facility.

And there have been contentious meetings at City Hall.

“It was worth the fight. It’s still worth the fight,” declares Cassandra Holmes, a longtime Little Earth resident, who’s lived close to the site for years. “It’s this big idea. This bigger version of what we’re already trying to do at Little Earth: jobs, growing food, teaching our kids.”

EPNI’s site plan includes a hydroponics garden, a fish-breeding facility, a solar array, housing spaces for 100 people and a community kitchen.

Dovolis says among the tasks ahead are inspections by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and research and analysis of the property by two law firms, who’ve agreed to do the work pro bono.  

He adds an official closing is set for June 2024.

“When we officially close on June 24, we can immediately start construction,” Dovolis says. “That’s our goal, to get that all wrapped up, get the bids taken. This thing’s going to be chock full of various community organizations really focusing on green industries.”

He admits the project won’t be cheap. He estimates the total cost of the urban farm project at about $80 million.

Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins says she’s supportive of the project but wishes the outcome would have been a little different.

“I’m happy that this project is moving forward. I really hope and pray that they are able to create an urban farm,” she explains. “I personally think we could have had a water maintenance facility. The community could have had an urban farm. We could have really cleaned out all the arsenic that’s under that building and created an amazing community.”

Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement saying he’s supportive of the project, as long as the city is reimbursed for money spent on the Public Works facility project originally planned at the Roof Depot site.

The city is now looking for a new location for that project.

Dovolis, meanwhile, says he’s optimistic about the future.

“There were times it was really difficult, and at times it took a ton of work and times of desperation and exhaustion,” he declares. “Was it hard? Yes. Does it feel great right now? Yes, because we now have an actual official agreement with Minneapolis.”