Developer seeks more feedback on former Ford plant site in St. Paul

August 17, 2018

What was originally billed as a glimpse Thursday of whats in store for the former Ford Motor Co. factory site in St. Pauls Highland Park became simply another chance for Ryan Cos. to collect feedback on the citys biggest potential development project in generations.

In a statement shared with the community, Ryan officials said they recently realized that a few elements of our plan require additional design and evaluation before presenting to neighbors and other stakeholders.

So they decided to use Thursdays community meeting to review what they heard at a listening session on July 31, and to get more input as we advance our planning and due diligence efforts.

The goal, they said, was to line up their vision with that of the stakeholders so that we can fine tune our plans. Update meetings have been scheduled for Sept. 27 and Nov. 8.

Ryan officials have kept their ideas for the 122-acre site to themselves since they were announced as the developer in late June. In many ways their caution makes sense, given the divisiveness in the neighborhood spawned by varying expectations.

City officials and many residents envision transforming the site from Fords 20th-century manufacturing facility into a high-density 21st-century urban village, complete with a new street grid, parks, housing and retail contained in six districts.

Those districts would have varying residential density, with shorter, smaller buildings erected near the Mississippi River and buildings potentially as tall as 10 stories farther away. The city estimates that by 2040, 1,500 people could be working at the site and 4,320 to 7,200 residents could be living there.

The City Council voted 5-2 last September to approve a master zoning plan designed to steer development in that direction.

Other neighbors, however, look at the plan, consider those numbers and cringe. They despair that the site will be too densely developed and its accompanying traffic will irrevocably change the quiet character of neighboring blocks of single-family homes.

A group of neighbors in opposition even launched a petition drive to put a repeal of the plan to citywide vote, an effort that was later blocked by the City Council.

Ryan, the Minneapolis-based developer behind Downtown East, CHS Field and other major projects, is tasked with developing the site in a way that not only hews to the citys ambitions but satisfies a wide swath of neighborhood desires. The developer comes with a reputation for listening to neighborhood concerns.

We know this will not be a small undertaking, said Mike Ryan, market leader for Ryan Cos. North region, on the day the company was announced as developer. What is safe to say is that the surrounding neighborhoods, institutions, retail amenities, parks and access to both downtowns and the airport are exceptional, and adding to them is our overarching priority.

In the companys statement leading up to Thursdays meeting at Highland Park Junior High School, officials said they were committed to put forth extensive due diligence to understand the history and complexities of the site, working with the city to align with their vision.

James Walsh 612-673-7428

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