U will fight lawsuit attempting to stop demolition of grain elevators

The lawsuit was filed by Friends of the Electric Steel Elevator.

The Electric Steel Grain Elevator stands near TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 20, 2016. The University is looking to build new track and field facilities, which would lead to the demolition of the elevators.

Maddy Fox

The Electric Steel Grain Elevator stands near TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 20, 2016. The University is looking to build new track and field facilities, which would lead to the demolition of the elevators.

Kevin Beckman

The University of Minnesota will fight a lawsuit that would prevent it from demolishing the Electric Steel Elevators near TCF Bank Stadium.

A group of preservationists filed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota last Thursday, a week after the University’s Board of Regents voted to demolish the 115-year old grain elevators on campus property to make room for the relocation of a recreational sports bubble.

Friends of the Electric Steel Elevator, LLC, is suing the University under a state law that says that the Board of Regents must cooperate with the Minnesota Historical Society and preserve historic sites on campus.

“There are basically none of these [elevators] left,” said Erik Hansen, the group’s attorney. “It’s part of our history.”

Hansen said the city of Minneapolis put controls in place to prevent the structures from being demolished as the city weighed whether to consider the buildings a historic site, but the University argued it has autonomy from the state and is not necessarily governed by city code.

The group is arguing that, as a state entity, the University must cooperate with other state agencies like the Minnesota Historical Society — something Hansen said the school did not do.

“The U can put up a sports dome in a great many other places,” he said. “And they don’t have to tear down a piece of Minneapolis history to do it.”

The University’s General Counsel, Doug Peterson, said the school had to respond by Monday.

The regents’ 11-1 vote to demolish the buildings came after many community members voiced their opposition.

Eric Amel, secretary of the Prospect Park Association, said the University’s decision to demolish the buildings despite their historical importance to Minnesota raises concerns about the school’s autonomy from the state.

“They’re more powerful than the state, and that needs to be brought into balance,” Amel said. “Something’s got to change.”

The PPA sent a letter to regents in August asking them to reconsider their plans to demolish the structures.

“The complaint serves as an opportunity to put the regents, the city and the legislature on notice that University autonomy has gone off the rails,” Amel said.

The group also alleged that the elevator complex is a “natural resource” and cannot be demolished because of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act .

The Electric Steel Elevators are the last of their kind in Minnesota and have historic significance, the lawsuit said, because they embody a historic time when Minneapolis was the milling capital of the world.

Robert Frame, a senior historian at Mead and Hunt, said the elevators are eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s got multiple layers of significance,” Frame said. “The steel elevator serves to illustrate the history of milling and agriculture in Minnesota and its importance to the growth … of both Minneapolis and the upper Midwest.”

Regent Chair Dean Johnson said that while he understands the historical importance of the elevators, the site is the most likely location of the recreational sports bubble, which will be displaced by the plan to build a new track and field facility.

“It’s the most logical place for it,” Johnson said. “And it’s the best place for students.”

Students expressed mixed opinions on the plans to demolish the structures.

Katie Morris, a biochemistry senior who works for intramural sports at the University, said the demolition of the elevators is necessary to make room for the recreational sports bubble, which will be displaced by a new track and field facility.

“[The bubble] is the heart of the intramural facilities,” Morris said. “The grain elevator site is the most logical place to put it. There really aren’t any other options.”

Others, like senior commercial and interior design major Jonathan Butler-Knutson said demolishing the building would be unethical.

“Demolishing this site would be a huge waste of resources that would end up in a landfill,” he said. “I think a lot of historic buildings get looked at and people think ‘tear them down’ because they’re taking up space. But I’ve seen that buildings that you don’t think can be reused can [be reused].”