Future unclear for Bunge tower

As seen from above, a series of rusted metal stairs sit inside of the empty and graffiti-filled interior of the abandoned Bunge Grain Elevator in Southeast Como on May 25, 2015.

Liam James Doyle

As seen from above, a series of rusted metal stairs sit inside of the empty and graffiti-filled interior of the abandoned Bunge Grain Elevator in Southeast Como on May 25, 2015.

Elizabeth Smith

A chain-link fence adorned with calculated placements of “No Trespassing” signs lines much of the Bunge grain elevator’s exterior, along with empty cigarette packs and aluminum cans.
 
Broken windows allow glimpses of walls garbed with graffiti — the marks of those who have trekked inside the Southeast Como neighborhood landmark. The grain elevator, which offers a view of the city, also serves as a photographer’s haven. 
 
Despite the fences, trespassing signs and sealed entries, the tower has become a hotspot for those interested in urban exploring, a pastime where participants adventure through man-made structures tucked away in city settings. Following the death of a University of Minnesota student earlier this month after she fell in the grain elevator, government and community leaders are working to raise security around the building.
 
Once part of Minneapolis’ milling industry, the 1936 landmark has deteriorated since it closed in 2003, becoming both a feared place of tragedy and a historic 
renovation opportunity.
 
The property’s owner — nonprofit employment and housing agency Project for Pride in Living — has spoken with residents who want to see the building redeveloped into housing or a climbing wall, although neither suggestion has made it past early discussions because of high costs.
 
PPL staff survey the site at least four or five times a week to see if the sealed entries have been pried opened, said Julie Brekke, vice president of programs, fundraising and communications. The organization calls law enforcement when nearby residents report a break-in.
 
Now, in wake of the recent death of 20-year-old University of Minnesota sophomore Emily Roland, a Minneapolis police officer sits outside watching the site until further safety protocol can be established. 
 
Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon said the short-term goal — to ensure accidents like Roland’s don’t happen again — includes adding tighter security measures.
 
He also said a long-term solution should be quickly established. 
 
Gordon said he is working closely with city officials to decide how the city can help set a timeline for redevelopment or demolition.
 

Roland was trespassing in the tower with two college-aged friends on June 6 when she fell three stories within the elevator. She died of blunt-force injuries from the fall, according to a Hennepin County Medical Examiner press release.
 
Friends and acquaintances took to social media to express their grief over the loss of Roland, calling her a wonderful friend and beautiful person. 
 
This marks the second death of a University student in less than 10 years at the abandoned elevator.
 
In 2006, student Germain Vigeant fell 100 feet to her death at the site while also exploring the building.
 
Some websites offer Minneapolis’ urban explorers a platform to connect and share photographs documenting their experiences.
 
One such site, called Action Squad, posts disclaimers like “Trespassing is illegal” and “Action Squad does not promote the activities portrayed.” It shares a list of restricted sites statewide that enthusiasts can explore, ranging from tunnels and caves to abandoned factories, hospitals or mills.
 
Mixed emotions
 
The Bunge tower is a recurring discussion point at the Southeast Como neighborhood organization’s meetings because it has proven treacherous for urban explorers but is also a neighborhood symbol.
 
Ricardo McCurley, executive director of the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said many neighborhood residents look at it with mixed emotions, wanting to see something done to renovate the landmark while at the same time knowing it can be dangerous as it continues to stand.
 
“When it comes up, there’s always hope and fear mixed into the conversation, but the hope is it can be repurposed,” McCurley said.
 
While redevelopment would be ideal, McCurley said, there’s always an underlying fear that accidents within the urban exploring population could occur.
 
“If history continues, they’ll seal it up and someone will break into it again, and another accident could happen,” he said.
 
The Bunge property is currently for sale, though Brekke said her organization also considers each remodeling idea brought to it.
 
“The bottom line here is that we’ve been diligent property owners in trying to keep the site safe, and we’re committed to doing that,” Brekke said. “It’s an absolute tragedy that these folks were able to get into the building and this terrible accident occurred.”