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How the U of M will demolish a historic building Minneapolis intended to save

It's one of the last of its kind in the country. But when the Minneapolis Planning and Economic Development blew off a deadline to report on its historic preservation, the grain elevator's fate was sealed.

It's one of the last of its kind in the country. But when the Minneapolis Planning and Economic Development blew off a deadline to report on its historic preservation, the grain elevator's fate was sealed.

The Electric Steel Elevator, located near TCF Stadium, is one of the last grain elevators of its kind in the country. It hasn’t been used for some time, and now resembles the sort of dilapidated urban jungle gym that daring college students like to break into and explore.

The University of Minnesota wants to put a new athletic facility in its place, and its longtime owner, Riverland Ag Corp., really wanted to sell.

But neighbors hope to preserve the elevator by fixing it up and reusing it somehow. They appealed to the Minneapolis City Council, which agreed that before tearing it down, everyone should be looking at alternative uses.

Last September, the council read a 96-page report by the city’s historic preservation commission, which saw potential for saving the elevator, and voted to place a one-year moratorium on demolition. At the same time, the council ordered the city’s Planning and Economic Development team to come up with a historic review.

With this report in hand, the city council could then begin the process of officially getting protection status.

But the deadline came and went this month. The historic review was never completed, which means that the city has no more authority to delay demolition using the historic preservation argument.

The man ordered to get that study done, Planning and Economic Development director Craig Taylor, coincidentally has strong ties to the U of M. Before being hired by the city, he was the U’s executive director of community economic development for 12 years.

In May, Taylor met with the U’s director of planning, Monique MacKenzie, who told MinnPost’s Peter Callaghan that she made Taylor aware of the school's plans. MacKenzie said he approved.

Taylor declined an interview, but stated through email that his department wasn’t able to complete the historic review because “there was not enough resources to do so.”

“People familiar with the matter already knew that time and resources would prevent the study from getting completed,” Taylor said. “Our department had more pressing issues to deal with.”

If Taylor and his team needed more time, he could have told the city council to extend the moratorium for six more months, as was within its authority to do, says councilmember Cam Gordon.

“That was really disappointing when we didn’t even do that,” Gordon reflected remorsefully. He was expecting the review to be completed before September, and expected that the Planning and Economic Development department should have been watching the due date.

As for Taylor’s excuses about lacking resources, Gordon says they are ultimately just excuses. After all, the historic preservation commission had already completed a 96-page report on the elevator, the Riverland Ag Corp. had ample historical documentation, and the neighborhood groups who cared so much had research of their own.

“I wasn’t expecting them to put in another 80-100 hours of work to review this personally,” Gordon says. “I was trying to say we can do it with the resources we have, to the best we could, and this was the expectation.”

Meanwhile, the U has purchased the building from Riverland. MacKenzie says that under state law, the university has authority over all U property.

That means that once the U’s Board of Regents votes in October to demolish the elevator, it’ll be doomed for good.

Neighbors organized with the Prospect Park Association are still fighting to convince the Board of Regents to vote otherwise, but for now, they’re on their own.