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Post-riot landscape of rubble persists as Minneapolis demands taxes in exchange for permits

Jeffrey Meitrodt, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Home and Consumer News

MINNEAPOLIS -- On a desolate lot in Minneapolis where Don Blyly's bookstore stood before being destroyed in the May riots, two men finish their cigarettes and then walk through a dangerous landscape filled with slippery debris and sharp objects. The city won't let Blyly haul away his wreckage without a permit, and he can't get a contractor to tell him how much it will cost to rebuild the store until that happens.

In St. Paul, where Jim Stage's pharmacy burned down during the same disturbances, crews have already removed the bricks and scorched timbers. A steel fence keeps out trespassers. Stage expects construction of his new Lloyd's Pharmacy to begin later this month.

The main reason for the different recoveries is simple: Minneapolis requires owners to prepay the second half of their 2020 property taxes in order to obtain a demolition permit. St. Paul does not.

"Minneapolis has not been particularly friendly toward business for some time," said Blyly, who prepaid $8,847 in taxes last week but still hasn't received his demolition permit. "They say they want to be helpful, but they certainly have not been."

City officials say their hands are tied, pointing to a state law that prohibits the removal of any structures or standing timber until all of the taxes assessed against the building have been fully paid.

The law, however, leaves enforcement to the county, and Hennepin County officials said they made it clear to the city of Minneapolis this summer that they would not enforce the requirement for any riot-damaged properties.

 

"We don't feel like we have an ability to block these permits, and I don't see why we would," said Derrick Hodge, one of the managers in Hennepin County's property tax office. "One of our missions in the county is to reduce disparities, and if we took action to block these permits, that would arguably be creating more disparities instead of reducing disparities."

Local business owners are appalled by the finger-pointing, noting that nearly 100 properties in Minneapolis were destroyed or severely damaged in the riots following the death of George Floyd. The vast majority of those properties are either still standing or have been turned into ugly and often dangerous piles of rubble. Owners say the lack of progress is discouraging reinvestment and sending customers to other parts of the metro.

Cleaning up that mess is expensive. Most property owners must pay $35,000 to $100,000 to clear their sites of debris, with larger tracts -- such as strip shopping centers -- costing as much as $400,000, according to property owners. That doesn't include the money those owners must pay to get their permits. On average, the owners of properties destroyed or significantly damaged owe $25,000 in taxes for the second half of 2020, which come due in October, according to a Star Tribune review of county property records.

"When it first hit my desk, I was flabbergasted that this was a requirement," said developer David Wellington, whose family owns several properties that were destroyed in the riots. "We need to make noise for people who really need the help and, frankly, it isn't us."

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