Minneapolis Delays Plan to Relocate Police Precinct After Protest Fire

Minneapolis and the neighboring capital city of St. Paul suffered over $500 million in damage during riots spurred by the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

The former site of Minneapolis’ Third Precinct police station, which was burned down by protesters days after the death of George Floyd in police custody. (Courthouse News photo/Andy Monserud)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The Minneapolis City Council emerged from two nights of curfews to delay approval of a lease for a temporary site for the city’s Third Precinct police station, after its former location was burned down during protests following the death of George Floyd.  

The council was scheduled to sign off Friday morning on a $1.2 million per year lease for a onetime print shop a few blocks north of the precinct’s original location. After outcry from activists and neighbors, however, the council voted to send the conversation back to a committee to further examine community impacts of using the building.

The abandonment and destruction of the Third Precinct – for which the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco charged a white man from the state’s rural north – was a turning point for the riots following Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody.

The long-term fate of the controversial precinct is still in flux. The city has estimated that it will cost some $10 million to rebuild, and councilmember Alondra Cano, who represents the ward where the precinct is located, has opposed rebuilding on that site.

The officers of the Third Precinct have been operating out of the Minneapolis Convention Center in the city’s downtown. That situation, councilmembers noted, isn’t cheap either.

“The impromptu headquarters that were created at the convention center come with certain costs, and come with certain operating challenges,” Cano said Friday. “Some people have framed this conversation as a ‘defund the police’ initiative when I believe that we are actually spending more money housing the police at the convention center than we would if we moved them to a different building.”

The lease was approved by the city’s Policy and Government Oversight Committee on Aug. 20, and councilmember Cam Gordon, a member of the committee, recommended that the council return it for more community input and analysis of its racial equity impacts.

Discussing the idea with community groups, Gordon said, revealed that many in the area of the proposed location were anxious about the idea.

“It became clearer and clearer to me all along that way… that people weren’t ready for this idea right now,” he said. “As I brought this issue forward to people I could see their eyes opening and their jaws dropping, and then I could hear their stories about the embers dropping in their backyard.”

“It just became a theme that we really need more time,” he added.

The proposed new location for the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. (Courthouse News photo/Andy Monserud)

The council supported Gordon’s motion unanimously, but with many members saying they supported the lease.

“We do have to recognize the humanity of our employees who help to keep our city safe,” Vice President Andrea Jenkins said. “And certainly, there has been much controversy and consternation around the Minneapolis Police Department, but at the end of the day they are our employees and deserve a safe and suitable work environment so that they can provide the best level of safety to our community.”

The lease would make the precinct one of a very few displaced organizations in Minneapolis with its own new space. In the months since the initial riots were suppressed by police and the National Guard, businesses and communities in the area have struggled to rebuild and reckon with the aftermath even as protests continue.

Minneapolis and the neighboring capital city of St. Paul suffered over $500 million in damage between May 25 and the conclusion of the riots late the next week. Some 1,500 buildings were burned or otherwise damaged across both cities, most commercial and concentrated on Lake Street in south Minneapolis and University Avenue in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.

On Wednesday evening, renewed unrest sparked by a rumored police killing – which was later confirmed to be a suicide – led Democratic Governor Tim Walz to redeploy the state’s National Guard to suppress looting, arson and vandalism. A curfew was enforced in Minneapolis on Wednesday night and in both cities on Thursday night, which was much quieter. Curfews are expected to stop Friday night, but the council also approved a resolution extending the emergency that enabled them through Monday.

May and June’s uprising was the second most destructive incidence of civil unrest in U.S. history, topped only by the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Plywood-boarded windows are still a common sight in both cities, many bearing messages like “Black owned” or “Black Lives Matter.”

Along Lake Street, where the bulk of arsons and looting took place, husks of burnt-out buildings still stand. FEMA denied Governor Walz’ request for $16 million in aid in July, a decision which the state has appealed. Meanwhile, the U.S. Small Business Administration declared a disaster on Aug. 18 and has offered low-interest loans to businesses and nonprofits in the area.

Some funding has also come from the Twin Cities’ stable of corporate giants, including Target, U.S. Bank and Medtronic. Cash, however, is not the only barrier to rebuilding. A brief snafu in which county officials in Minneapolis demanded property tax payments before they issued demolition permits for destroyed buildings was quickly resolved after media outcry, but heaps of rubble remain along both commercial corridors.

The fastest-moving efforts have so far gone only as far as leveling those piles. And in St. Paul, the poorer of the two cities, the landlord of a strip mall damaged by fires and looting has evicted all of its tenants, pushing out dozens of businesses in order to demolish and replace the mall.

The former site of Minnehaha Lake Liquors, which was directly across from the Third Precinct in Minneapolis and was also burned and looted during riots. (Courthouse News photo/Andy Monserud)

It’s not all bleak for area businesses, however. Less than a block from the burnt-out Third Precinct, the four founders of Arbeiter Brewing are still planning on opening up – just a little behind schedule. The owners’ plans to open were delayed by about a month, they said, when clashes between protesters and police kept subcontractors out of the area for a few weeks.

“That’s been our basic hang-up,” co-owner Juno Choi said.

As for the Third Precinct’s relocation, co-owner Josh Voeltz said he’s not especially impressed with the city’s decision.

“I would have rather seen that money spent on the community,” he said.

Voeltz specifically pointed to a series of evictions of hundreds of homeless people from encampments in city parks in the months since the riots.

“Seems like they could have spent those funds to help that situation,” he said.

While some public figures have claimed that riots and council rumblings about a now-stalled effort to defund the Minneapolis Police Department will lead to an exodus from the city, the Arbeiter founders say the protests have cemented them in their new location.

“It’s become part of our story,” Choi said. “We’re driven a little bit more to provide a space for the community.”

A few blocks west of Arbeiter and the old precinct, the Midtown Global Market is navigating the complications of anchoring a community hit by the one-two punch of rioting and Covid-19. The market, which houses 17 local businesses, had a few windows and doors damaged during the unrest, according to market director Earlsworth “Baba” Letang.

It’s also been hit hard by the shift of nearby Allina Health, whose workforce makes up a large part of the market’s daily customer base, to working from home.

Earlsworth “Baba” Letang, director of the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. (Courthouse News photo/Andy Monserud)

“Some people think that the market is still closed,” Letang said, noting that a few of the market’s windows were still boarded up pending repairs. “We’re fighting perceptions, because of what happened. Some people still feel that the market, and Lake Street on the whole, is not very safe to go. In their mind, they have memories of the rioting, and destruction, and buildings, so we’re working against that.”

He said the market’s owners are working with community groups to support Lake Street businesses and to lobby the legislature for relief funds – an effort that has been put off while the legislature is out of session.

Letang expects that the last of the damages to the market itself will be fixed soon, but said its community work is ongoing. The market has already leased a space to one of its neighbors whose building was destroyed by fire, he said, and hopes to attract more.

Meanwhile, it’s working with neighborhood organizations and its vendors on recovery efforts and making sure people feel comfortable shopping in the area.

That can mean anything from providing security services to hosting events. One planned for this weekend will showcase foods that vendors would have normally been hawking at the canceled Minnesota State Fair.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but we are very optimistic that together… as more bonds are renewed, that’s going to bring more life in here,” Letang said.

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