Ford Site Stuck in Neutral

Redevelopment is nowhere near getting started.

Ford Site Stuck in Neutral
Ford site concept drawings created by the city of St. Paul.

The city of St. Paul has been planning for the redevelopment of the former Ford plant for more than a decade. Outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman reckons he has attended “hundreds” of meetings over the years about the 122-acre site. The city’s website details 14 different professional studies of the property from 2007 to 2016, analyzing development concepts, transportation, jobs, storm water management and other issues.

But even under a best-case scenario, construction of new housing units, commercial buildings and green space on the site remains years away. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. still owns the site; the factory ceased operation in 2011. According to the city’s timeline, infrastructure development won’t start until 2020 or 2021. The 2017 draft of the Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan estimates that it will take 12 to 20 years to build out the entire site.

The master plan draft outlines the project’s vast scope: 2,400 to 4,000 new units of housing, 150,000 to 300,000 square feet of retail space, and 200,000 to 450,000 square feet of office space.

As environmental cleanup of the site winds down, Ford plans to put the property up for sale in 2018, says Dawn Booker, a spokeswoman for the Ford Land real estate division.

It will be important to strike a balance between the city’s vision and what the market will support on the site, says Pat Mascia, who led the Twin Cities office of Indianapolis-based Duke Realty Corp. for 10 years. (Mascia is now an attorney and shareholder with Minneapolis-based Briggs and Morgan.)

Mascia notes that the lack of freeway access at the Ford site may be a concern for potential office and retail tenants. That could mean it would attract less commercial space than the city currently envisions.

As the city inches towards redevelopment, some Highland Park residents are raising strong objections. The Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul group is concerned that the large number of potential new housing units will create a “mini-metropolis,” bring big increases in traffic and hurt livability.

“The reason we have community processes is so that we can hear those concerns . . . . We’re never going to satisfy everyone,” says Coleman, who, after three terms as mayor, is running for governor in 2018. “The best development is going to be one that maximizes the site and integrates into the surrounding neighborhood.” —Burl Gilyard

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