An attempt to create a unified plan for the future of Minneapolis police's burned-out Third Precinct stalled Tuesday, as a divided Minneapolis City Council declined to endorse Mayor Jacob Frey's plan to transform the former station into a community space and "democracy center" housing Election and Voter Services.

Meeting as a committee, the council discussed the proposal for nearly two hours — and then voted 7 to 6 to pull it off the agenda, with some council members insisting the city should not prescribe a new purpose for the former police station before having more conversations with residents.

Council Member Robin Wonsley voted against the plan, calling it "completely out of line with what residents have been asking for." She added the city had not completed "authentic engagement" with residents.

But other council members voiced frustration with what they characterized as another delay in the now yearslong process of trying to sort out a new home for the Third Precinct and figuring out what to do with the building at 3000 Minnehaha Av., which continues to sit vacant, dilapidated and vandalized.

The city will soon make some cosmetic upgrades and remove the razor wire that has surrounded the building since it was burned by protesters following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a then-Minneapolis police officer. And Frey's administration can still move forward with the concept plans for the building without council support. On Tuesday, the mayor issued a statement indicating that he planned to keep going with the voting center plan.

"Independent of the confusion and discord on the Council, we are moving forward with a realistic plan to establish a voting center with a large space designated for community use," he said. "We gave the Council an opportunity to weigh in, and instead, they punted."

Earlier engagement

The city has already tried several strategies to gather community feedback on the future of the Third Precinct.

Last summer, the council voted to prohibit the city from ever reopening a police station on the site of the former station — even after a council-ordered survey of about 3,600 people who visit, live or work in the immediate area found 44%, the largest group of respondents, wanted to restore 3000 Minnehaha Av. to a police station. The survey was criticized by some council members and residents for precluding the option of not having a precinct at all in the locations offered by the city.

The Longfellow Community Council gathered feedback from 118 participants, 94% of whom wanted the community to determine the building's use and only 6% of whom were interested in seeing it become a voter center. In a presentation of the results earlier this month, the Longfellow neighborhood group acknowledged the constraints of a small sample size and low diversity; an estimated 80% of respondents were white.

"If the community engagement does not meet to your predetermined conclusion, will that be accepted?" asked Council Member Andrea Jenkins, chiding her colleagues who were resistant to the voter center idea. "That's a question that we have to ask ourselves because we literally disregarded the extensive community engagement that went on around this property."

City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher had proposed a concept dividing the ground floor of the former precinct into an early voting center, elections warehouse and community space, with administrative offices on the second floor. The move would allow the city to relocate Elections and Voter Services from a leased space on East Hennepin Avenue, saving more than $372,000 a year and increasing ballot access in a part of Minneapolis that struggles with some of the lower voter turnout rates in the city.

"This is a win-win-win because what it's going to provide is space for the community, where we are taking on the overhead, we are taking on electricity, heat, maintenance, all of those things that often folks really struggle with," she said.

Truth and reconciliation

Some public feedback has indicated residents want a restoration of trust and the creation of a public safety model that goes beyond policing before any decision is made. There is also a community proposal, led by Fred Brathwaite of Mama Sheila's House of Soul restaurant, to transform the entire building into a Black cultural center. State Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, DFL-Minneapolis, has a bill asking for a half-million dollars for the project, which is estimated to cost more than $80 million to develop. The bill has no Senate companion.

Anderson Kelliher said the administration is not willing to sell the building for community redevelopment.

Also Tuesday, the council voted to request an update from the mayor on the city's "Truth and Reconciliation" process, which was announced four years ago but stalled amid an exodus of city staff from the department of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging alleging lack of support.

Some members of the public have told city leaders that they want that process to be completed before any decision on the Third Precinct, but it's unclear where things stand; the city's Truth and Reconciliation website was last updated six months ago.