The Future of St. Paul’s Ford Plant

It was 2005 when the newly elected Mayor of St. Paul, Chris Coleman, received a call outlining Ford’s plan to begin closing their St. Paul assembly plant. The plant had been operating on the banks of the Mississippi river for nearly a century. While it was just rumors and mumblings in the later months of 2005, Ford eventually went public with the plan in 2006, and kick-started a decade long process of studies and redevelopment plans.

On Monday, November 14th, 2016, the years of public hearings, studies, and planning meetings began to take a more concrete shape, as the City of St. Paul condensed their findings and plans into a single presentation on the future of the site.

While much of the plan remains subject to change as a master developer is sought, this is a major step in outlining what the city envisions to happen in the coming years.

The timeline for the site looks something like this:

  • Ford has been in the process of environmental remediation since 2013, and will continue to be, running through 2018 and into the beginning of 2019.

  • During the remediation process, Ford will also put the property up for sale, sometime during 2017-2018. The plan is to sell the site to a master developer who has the experience and capabilities the manage a project of this scale.

  • Word on the street is Ford will be putting a price tag on the site in the ballpark of $1.3 Billion. The listing broker is Richard Palmitar of CBRE.

  • Once a developer is selected and the sale is approved, 2019-2020 will be an additional year+ of planning and amendments to the City’s plan by the developer.

  • Beginning in 2020 through 2021, infrastructure will begin to be constructed, including roads, sidewalks, and other utilities.

The timeline overall is by no means final, however the city would like to adhere to it as closely as possible.

As interesting as the timeline and history of planning is, getting an idea for the envisioned layout of the site is what we are really looking for. So here are some of the highlights from the plan.

To begin, the plan for the street configuration as well as sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails are as follows:

The gray/white lines represent streets to be built, mostly as continuations of existing streets that currently end at the site. Some lines are thicker, as they will be designed to have one lane of traffic going each way, a turn lane dividing them, and a lane reserved for buses on the outside of each direction.

The thinner white lines will be open to cars, but will not offer much room for cars traveling in both directions. They are being referred to as “lanes”, and operate in the way that an alley does. Think Europe.

The highlighted green lines that you see are are designated trails and pedways. They will not be open to vehicle traffic, but instead reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Many St. Paulites who have grown up in the area, or have raised kids nearby, may have immediately noticed the absence of the Little League fields in the image above, just as I did. As a staple in the community, and something that people have been very vocal about preserving, the City took special note to do their best in continuing to have a space for the fields.

In the image below, the plan for water features throughout the property, in addition to the suggested placement of the Little League fields is laid out. During the presentation, they did make it clear that securing the land for the purpose of the fields is not yet a done deal, but they do understand that it is a very important piece of the project to the community.

This plan outlined above does include the land that is owned by the Canadian Pacific railway that is on the south end of the site. Ford does not currently have control of this site so there is a chance that the developer may not end up being able to include it in the plans. If this were to happen, the City did outline the alternative plan below.

While it is uncertain which plan will end up happening, the City seemed much more confident on the first rendition that includes the railway property.

Following the outlining of the streets, trails, and water features, the presentation moved on to zoning, and what they envision the building configuration to look like.

Each variation of building type is represented by a color in the slide below, along with the max height that will be allowed in that region. The tallest buildings will be to the east, on the Cleveland Ave. side of the site, as the city wanted to make sure that buildings would not be visible from the banks on the west side of the river.

The aesthetics in each region will be up to the developer to decide on, with approval of the city.

One of the more interesting zoning decisions that came as a surprise, was the region marked as “River Residential”. This area, that runs along Mississippi River Blvd, will feature “Mansion-style units” and “Carriage houses”. In other words , they will not be your run of the mill River Blvd homes that are typically found, but instead will feature multi-tenant units, in the style of mansions.

With this area being the last hope for any single family homes to be built, it seems as though we have struck out.

Overall, the City’s plan calls for 4,000 residential units to be built, the majority of them in the style of condos and apartments. Townhomes and the mansion style units round out the 4,000.

With the majority of the site laid out at this point, there was one question that remained lingering in everyone’s mind.

“So where do we park?”

The City’s response, in the form of the parking plan for the site was essentially, “you don’t”.

The abundant bike lanes, pedestrian pathways, narrow roads, and designated bus lanes, are all an attempt to keep as many cars out of the development as possible.

Parking for residents and shop goers is yet to be finalized, but the city did give their two cents on the topic.

  • Shared parking ramps for residents

  • Small parking lots with 20 spaces or fewer

  • On-street parking where appropriate

By looking at the plan, the “on-street parking where appropriate” comes off as not being appropriate on many of the new streets.

The City did mention that they are actually zoning the area for less parking than they would usually require for a new development or building.

Charging stations for electric cars, as well as opportunities for car sharing programs will be abundant on the site.

The presentation on Monday night was a very exciting step for the future of the Ford site, and it began a new chapter in its development. The people who are leading the planning of the project include Mayer Coleman, Councilman Chris Tolbert, city planner Merritt Clapp-Smith, and Jonathan Sage-Martinson – The Director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of St. Paul. With a mountain of work and planning still to come, and many more meetings to be had, this group clearly showed their passion for the project and understand the opportunity to create a gem of a neighborhood in the city of St. Paul.

Looking forward, the next meeting regarding the site will be on Monday, November 21, at 7 p.m. in Lumen Christi Catholic Church. The meeting will inform on recent transportation and traffic studies conducted.

More information is available at: https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/planning-economic-development/planning/ford-site-21st-century-community

Thanks for reading,

Matt Michalski Jr.

#FordSite #FordPlant #RealEstate #Redevelopment #StPaul

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