Currently in cramped quarters in the heart of the downtown entertainment district, the Minneapolis 1st Precinct police station could move into a more modern and spacious facility closer to City Hall.
The station, which serves the downtown area and nearby neighborhoods such as Cedar-Riverside, is currently housed in a renovated century-old firehouse at 19 N. 4th St. Several possible locations are being looked at for the new station, notably the site of the soon-to-be-vacated Public Service Center at the corner of S. 4th Street and S. 3rd Avenue, said Mark Ruff, the city’s chief financial officer.
With many of the city’s administrative offices being consolidated into a sparkling new municipal building under construction across the street from City Hall, the site is ripe for redevelopment, he said.
“If we want to locate the precinct to another place, it’s better to do that now rather than wait another 10 years and not have that opportunity,” with an ever-tightening market for downtown real estate space, Ruff said on Thursday. Still, he added, the proposal is “far from a done deal.”
As soon as the fall of 2020, the department will move most of its operations, including divisions such as Investigations and Professional Standards, into the city’s new 11-story office tower, joining more than 1,000 other city workers and operations previously spread out in other buildings across downtown. The police chief’s office will remain at City Hall.
In March, city officials put out a request for proposals, or RFP, to study the feasibility of building a new 21,000-square-foot downtown police station, with roughly 170 dedicated parking spaces. The contract is worth up to $175,000.
“The consultant will be expected to work with Police on the impact of any location on response times, employees, etc.,” the proposal read. “The new precinct station may be free-standing, although initial discussions with developers indicate that a new precinct station could also work on the first few floors of a larger development.”
The project’s design team will consist of police officials, the city’s project manager, and representatives from the Department of Finance and Property Services and Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), according to the RFP.
Built in 1902 as a fire station, the existing station has just over 15,000 square feet compared to other, larger precincts.
“A roll call room is the same place they keep the body cameras, it’s just too small, people are on top of each other in that building,” Ruff said. “If you think about the growth in our downtown, it’s not compatible.”
Parking is also a major issue, with the department shelling out between $200,000-$230,000 a year for officers to park their personal vehicles and squad cars in nearby ramps, he said.
In addition to having ample parking, officials say, the new building should include: more community gathering space; a room for nursing mothers; a 1,500-square-foot office for the precinct’s community response team, with its own entrance; a larger roll call room, workout gym, and other facilities.
Among those pushing for a change is councilman Steve Fletcher. He said he has heard from downtown residents who are hoping for “a more welcoming building” than the one that police have called home since 2002.
“I do think making it a more welcoming space to community is something that we’ll be talking about,” he said in a recent interview. “Even people who live across the street tend to call 911 rather than walk across the street and talk to the desk, because you have to be buzzed in.”
Complaints about a lack of space at the two-story building have only grown louder recently, he said.
“We’ve heard that it was expensive to heat, we’ve heard that it can get pretty cramped when you’ve got a full shift,” Fletcher said. “On a really busy night, the number of holding rooms if they want to question somebody might not be adequate.”
Council Member Abdi Warsame, part of whose ward also falls in the 1st Precinct, did not respond to a message seeking comment this week, while Council Member Lisa Goodman said in a voice mail that conversations about moving the station have persisted since she first joined the Council, but that she hasn’t been involved in the most recent negotiations.
Early projections in the city’s RFP say the new station could cost $7-8 million to build, an estimate that some say is conservative.
At the same time, officials admit it may take several years to cobble together the political support and funding needed to get the job done.
“It could be a couple of years before what we really know what the plan is,” Fletcher said.
This comes as a separate proposal to relocate the 4th Precinct police station seems to have languished in recent months. Officials are also eyeing a new training facility somewhere nearby.
Joe Tamburino, chairman of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, said he welcomes the proposal, so long as the new location doesn’t negatively impact police response times.
“I do think it’s a good idea, because the first precinct needs more space and they need more parking,” Tamburino said. And with downtown’s population continuing to grow, he said he hopes a bigger police station will allow for the hiring of more cops to patrol area streets. “We’re talking downtown is now the size of Edina, surpassing St. Louis Park,” he said.
Despite its location near a popular strip of bars and nightclubs — or perhaps because of it — the street in front of the station has been the site of several shootings in recent years. In the most recent incident, Michael Clark, 40, was gunned down earlier this month in an alley just feet from the station, apparently while trying to break up a fight involving a man believed to be his nephew, police said. A 35-year-old man was later charged with murder in the shooting, which also left Clark’s nephew permanently paralyzed from a gunshot wound.