The fire-ravaged Midway Center building on the southwest corner of University Avenue and Pascal Street will face a 15-day removal order at the Saint Paul City Council meeting on August 25, following a review late last month by a legislative hearing officer. The shopping center owners and management are in the process of obtaining a demolition permit for the property.

However, Union Park District Council (UPDC) leaders who have pushed for the building demolition for more than a year are questioning a proposal to use the building site as interim parking space.

The shopping center sustained extensive damage following last year’s murder of George Floyd and subsequent civil unrest. Businesses were forced to relocate or close, and were later evicted. Four displaced business are currently suing, contending that they should not have to face eviction. They want to put a halt to any demolition proceedings.

The City Council earlier this summer ordered that the nearby Big Top Liquors at Midway Center be torn down. It also sustained extensive fire damage during the unrest, but is still standing.

In May, city officials approved a remove or repair order for the remaining shopping center building, but the June 18 deadline has passed. The new order is for removal, with no chance of repair. A demolition permit for Midway Center is in process, attorney Bruce Parker told city staff.

Steve Magner of the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) said a permit to demolish a commercial building is more complicated than for a residential structure. Testing may have to be done at Midway Center to determine the extent of asbestos and other hazardous materials in the building.

Another issue is the prospect of the site being used as a parking lot until redevelopment can begin. Magner said that would require a site plan review.

“Our biggest concern as a district council is the time during which the building has remained standing,” said UPDC executive director Abdulrahman Wako. “We don’t wish to see this dragged out any further.”

The UPDC would like a firm timeline as to when the building would come down.  It is anxious for redevelopment to begin, given the availability of federal Opportunity Zone assistance and tax increment financing.

“Our biggest concern as a district council is the time during which the building has remained standing,” said UPDC executive director Abdulrahman Wako.

Dean Cummings, chair of the UPDC Committee on Land Use and Economic Development, was unable to attend the virtual hearing, but is anxious to see the building come down. “It’s dismaying that it’s taken essentially police action to force these billionaires to come to that conclusion after more than a year,” he said.

If the City Council grants the demolition order, it would affect 19 storefronts from 1460-1564 University Ave. The property is owned by RK Midway/RD management out of New York City and is under a lease agreement with Snelling Midway Redevelopment LLC. 

Since the civil unrest, the shopping center and former Big Top Liquors store have had numerous inspections by city staff and have been condemned.

City legislative hearing officer Marcia Moermond said Midway Center is in a substantial nuisance condition. Demolition is estimated to cost more than $200,000. Magner said the land value is $10.3 million, while the damaged building is worth about $1,000.

The damage in parts of the shopping center is extensive, according to one city staff report. Part of the roof has collapsed, leaving the building exposed to the elements. Overstressed masonry on the east wall could collapse into the Pascal Street right-of-way.

Several intentional fires have been set inside the property, and there have been repeated break-ins by people seeking shelter or items to steal. One party even used a ladder. Locks have been broken several times. Rotting bags of dog food inside one store have attracted rats and other rodents. Open sewer lines have not been capped.

Another report stated that several walls were breached so squatters could tunnel into other portions of the building that were otherwise secure. The report said the breaches could cause people to fall into the basement and make it “extremely dangerous for firefighters trying to perform search-and-rescue efforts.”

The UPDC committee has not had a chance to discuss the notion of the building site being used as parking, even on an interim basis. At past meetings some committee members have expressed impatience with the slow pace of redevelopment and now demolition.

— Jane McClure


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