December 6, 2022

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Midway Shopping Center demolition in St. Paul could be months away

The demolition of the riot-damaged Midway Shopping Center in St. Paul could be delayed months, city officials said, noting that demolition permit applications remain incomplete despite city orders mandating the property owner raze the mall by June 18 and an adjacent liquor store by July 2.

Depending on the outcome of ongoing talks between the city and the property owner’s demolition subcontractor, permit applications could still be completed and processed. or the city could decide to raze the shopping center and the adjacent former Big Top Liquors itself, said Suzanne Donovan, a spokeswoman for the city of St. Paul’s Safety and Inspections Department.

If the city opts to demolish the site on its own, it must first conduct an environmental impact assessment and collect bids from third-party demolition firms.

“Staff estimate these stepswould take at least another 60 days to complete,” Donovan said during a phone interview late Thursday.

The 34-acre strip mall, liquor store and accompanying parking lots at 1460 and 1544 University Avenue sit next to the Allianz Field soccer stadium.

The mall’s property owners, Rick Birdoffof RK Midway, and RD Management Corp., received city approval in 2016 for a “master redevelopment plan” that calls for a large mixed-use housing, office, retail and hotel complex on the sprawling site.

But instead of the development moving forward, the strip mall and liquor store structures have sat burned, fenced in and vacant for more than a year. In May and June, the city noted that several areas around the fenced-in property have been breached and could pose a hazard. It ordered that the structures be torn down.

Golden Valley-based Mortenson Construction has been hired to redevelop the site. Ramsey Companies, hired to demolish the shopping center and former liquor store, submitted two demolition permit applications to the city on June 7, but they “are not yet complete andlackimportantdetails,” Donovan said.

Neither Ramsey Companies officials nor the RK Midway property owner Birdoff returned calls seeking comment.

Mortenson Senior Vice President Bob Solfelt, said in an e-mail a month ago that Mortenson “expects a permit to be issued within the next few days.”

In his e-mail, Solfelt estimated demolition should be completed within eight weeks “once permits are issued.”Mortenson officials said they have not provided fresh updates since last month.

The mall and the liquor store on University Avenue and Pascal Street N. were badly damaged in fires set by rioters in May 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Shortly after the fire, RK Midway and RD Management evicted the tenants of the 19-storefront building and fenced it in.

Two weeks ago, several tenants sued RK Midway Shopping Center, the redevelopment entity Snelling-Midway Redevelopment and RD Management in Ramsey County District Court. Tenants alleged wrongful eviction and breach of contract that caused severe financial hardship. A court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27.

Va-Megn Thoj , executive director of the St. Paul-based Asian Economic Development Association, said the situation badly affected the former mall tenants, who had to scramble to find new space. Some of them have not been able to relocate and reopen.

“The landlords were eager to evict and didn’t give the tenants much time to move out because they said they wanted to redevelop as soon as possible,” Thoj said. “With all the delays more than a year later, that rationale now rings a little hollow.”

Donovan said the lawsuit is unlikely to have any impact on how the city proceeds with demolishing the site.

Neither Donovan nor Nicolle Goodman, director of St. Paul Planning and Economic Development, could answer for why it has taken a year to raze two structures that are considered a potential public hazard.

Goodman said in an interview that she remains hopeful there will soon be progress.

“We have had communications with the developer and the buildings shouldbe coming down soon,” she said. “I do think you will see some activitythere soon,” Goodman said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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