City says deal for temporary 3rd Precinct site for Minneapolis police is off

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

The Minneapolis Police Third Precinct station was evacuated and destroyed May 28, 2020, after George Floyd's death in police custody. - Aaron Lavinsky/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Amid protests, vandalism and criticism from the City Council, a deal to find a temporary home for the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct fell apart this week.

Moments before a City Council committee was set to discuss a $1.2 million annual lease for a temporary base Wednesday, the city announced that negotiations had ended.

City staff scouted 26 locations before recommending that City Council approve a deal to lease a warehouse at 2633 Minnehaha Ave. to replace the former 3rd Precinct several blocks away.

That building was destroyed by rioters after the death of George Floyd, who was arrested by Minneapolis officers assigned to the 3rd Precinct. The question of how to replace it, even on a temporary basis, has become a contentious issue for city leaders and the community.

One community group, Seward Police Abolition, announced protests outside the temporary site and at an address they thought was the owner’s residence.

“We did identify this as a risk, that we could not ensure that the owner and city would continue negotiations,” City Coordinator Mark Ruff told council members Wednesday.

Since it was destroyed, many 3rd Precinct police officers have been working out of the Convention Center in Downtown Minneapolis, but city staff had warned council that they have to move to a new temporary space soon.

“Time is of the essence,” Ruff said, noting that some events are scheduled in the Convention Center in the coming months, if COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The City Council had been scheduled to vote on the lease Aug. 28 but sent it back to committees, after some residents raised concerns about their safety or said they felt it violated a promise to rethink public safety in the city.

On Monday afternoon, Minneapolis police were called to the location on Minnehaha Avenue to investigate a report that there had been graffiti, including a threat to burn the building.

A photo shows that at least one of the messages left behind called for “the literal deaths of individual police officers.” There had not been any arrests as of Wednesday afternoon.

If the deal had been approved, the city’s lease would have been with Lothenbach Properties II, LLC and Imagine Express. Representatives declined an interview request made through a spokesperson. In a statement, Imagine Express said: “We intend to move in a different direction with respect to the property.”

The building sits near the border of the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods and some who opposed the deal on Wednesday welcomed news that it had fallen through.

Leading the push against that site was Seward Police Abolition, a group that formed after Floyd’s death. One of their supporters, Longfellow resident Aaron Hosansky, 33, said he feared the process had moved along too quickly and that council hadn’t done enough to fulfill their promises of trying to create a public safety system that doesn’t rely solely on police.

“I celebrate joyously today, but I have no idea what the future will hold,” he said, adding that he hopes City Council will be more transparent about future decisions.

Council Member Cam Gordon, who represents the area, had previously developed a list of criteria that would allow him to support the temporary site, based on feedback from residents. City staff told him they thought they could meet some of his requests, but not all of them.

It’s unclear where the city might turn next in its search for a temporary precinct. Property services initially ruled out the other 25 sites because they didn’t meet the precinct’s needs, timeline, price point or other “negotiation challenges,” city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said.

Ruff said the city might have to look at sites outside the 3rd Precinct’s boundaries.

Some council members have raised the possibility of trying to spread the 3rd Precinct out across multiple locations. “I certainly hope we can find a temporary location that can work sooner than later for our city employees,” Council Member Andrew Johnson said. “I don’t see that as something that’s optional: providing a work space for our city employees.”

Jeff Johnson, executive director of the Minneapolis Convention Center, said they have some events booked in November and December, if COVID-19 precautions lift. If they can’t provide the venues under the contract, they could be legally liable, he said.

Police officers are currently working in about 20% of the building. The city hasn’t released a precise number of what it currently costs to house the officers there, but said utilities for the full convention center typically run about $250,000 a month, in normal times.

Johnson said the conditions in the Convention Center are different from what officers would find in a normal police precinct. There aren’t locker rooms. Showers are far away from work areas. Few have private offices.

“They’re not getting probably what they would want out of a precinct, and so we’re making do with what we have,” Johnson said.

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(Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.)

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)