Hope and frustration on Lake Street one year after unprecedented unrest in south Minneapolis

Visible signs of recovery and optimism for the future on Lake Street share space with physical scars and simmering frustration one year after peaceful protests over the police killing of George Floyd erupted in violent unrest.

Rioters burned the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct building and also set fire to neighboring buildings which remain at the epicenter of the worst damage in south Minneapolis.

Those unprecedented events prompted a new commitment to inclusive redevelopment, calls for more investment from government and even legal action against the City of Minneapolis.

Lamberto Vergara’s (LV’s) barbershop narrowly avoided the flames, but the destruction on Lake Street still forced him to remain closed until recently.

"Everyone here took a big hit, and I’m really saddened by the whole tragedy," Vergara said.

LV’s Barbershop finally reopened earlier this month.

"We’re pretty excited to be back in our community," he said.

The nonprofit Lake Street Council estimates 90% of businesses in the area have since reopened, but that does not include the Town Talk Diner & Gastropub, owned by Kasey White and Charles Stotts.

"We got vandalized and looted the first night and then it burned to the ground the next," Stotts said. "There’s a range of emotions. … We poured everything into (the business). To lose it the way things went down? Yeah, anger’s in the spectrum for sure."

Like many businesses damaged or destroyed on Lake Street, White and Stotts say insurance did not come close to making them whole, but earlier this year, the couple took the extraordinary step of suing the City of Minneapolis and Mayor Jacob Frey in federal court.

The lawsuit, filed in February, alleges the mayor and city "acted with deliberate indifference" when they ordered police to leave the 3rd Precinct building and the surrounding area.

"I do feel like I had a realistic expectation that police weren’t supposed to leave, they were supposed to enter. And the nights they did enter, the buildings stood. It wasn’t until they departed," Stotts said.

The lawsuit seeks damages "in excess of $4,500,000."

"We were five-star rated Yelp restaurant, five star on OpenTable … we worked hard for that … and we earned our reputation, and all of that is now penniless. The reality is that has a value," Stotts and White said. "We lost more than silverware and china and crystal."

The City of Minneapolis declined an interview request, but in a written statement, City Attorney Jim Rowader called the lawsuit’s claims "spurious."

"Plaintiffs have unfortunately persisted in their false allegations against the City of Minneapolis and Mayor Frey," Rowader wrote. "We have answered the complaint, pointing out the false allegations, and have moved to dismiss those allegations which are unsupported by the law."

The city’s motion to dismiss is still pending.

Allison Sharkey, executive director of the Lake Street Council, declined to comment specifically about the lawsuit.

"I don’t think any of us could’ve been prepared for this," Sharkey said. "At the same time, I do think there are clearly things that could’ve been done better and differently. I think that the city has taken steps to be better prepared in case something like this happens again. "

Sharkey and others say the events of the last year are also impacting how Lake Street rebuilds.

"The community has come together and said, ‘We want to build back really intentionally,’" Sharkey said.

That includes new plans for redeveloping the historic Coliseum Building on 27th Avenue and Lake Street. After being gutted by fire and initially marked for demolition, nonprofit developer Redesign Inc. has stepped in to buy the 80,000 square-foot building and try to save the property.

Taylor Smrikárova (née Cooper) is the project manager leading the effort to bring in Black-owned businesses as tenants and partners.

"The impact will be that the building itself will become that much more welcoming," Smrikárova said. "You’ll see it come alive and the community can look to it and say, ‘Something’s happening there.’"

Advocates estimate 70,000 individual donors have helped raise $11 million for the We Love Lake Street fund, but they say they still need more help from the government.

"It’s not going to be easy and there will be stumbling on both sides," Smrikárova said. "But if the goal is to bring back Lake Street, then let’s work at it. Let’s get it done."