Big dreams driving new visions for St. Paul Ford plant site

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City leaders in St. Paul are envisioning a shiny new future for the shabby remains of the old Ford plant site in St. Paul – "a 21st-century community" as Mayor Chris Coleman calls it – that mixes housing, workplaces and recreational park space.

An effort is now underway to plan what city leaders hope is a pedestrian-friendly development that becomes a national model for an eco-friendly community, the Pioneer Press reports.

City and Ford leaders at a Tuesday news conference offered updates on planning (video above). The carmaker has now finished ripping down roughly 2 million square feet of structures, leaving behind a massive collection of concrete slabs on 125 now-vacant acres at the enviable riverfront site. The flat asphalt on the Highland Park campus is now home to soaring visions of what could be, Coleman says.

“This may be the best site in the country to build a 21st-century community,” the mayor said.

What's next

But there is a lot of work to do before any development rises at the site.

Site-owner Ford aims to begin marketing the property by mid- to late 2015, preferably to a single master developer, a Ford official said Tuesday.

The amount of environmental cleanup at the site has not yet been quantified. The concrete slabs will be removed and the soil tested, in cooperation with state pollution control officials.

Also ahead are five city efforts: zoning research, a "21st-century workforce" employment analysis for the site, an energy and sustainability study, transit/transportation planning and a new public outreach campaign, city officials say.

Challenge ahead

Among the twists and turns on the road to redeveloping the site is this: The city does not intend to purchase the site, which leaves Ford "in the driver's seat," as the Pioneer Press puts it.

Some critics fret that could lead to a suburban-type development with big box stores and residential cul-de-sacs, rather than a more pedestrian- and environmentally friendly neighborhoods.

Coleman and Ford officials, for now, pledge to work collaboratively. The mayor noted, “We may not always agree on every aspect and every detail ... [but] we can be respectful and forward-thinking on what will happen here,” the Star Tribune reports.

Traces of history

Not all remnants of the historic site were carted away for recycling and disposal – the carmaker preserved the plant's carved limestone facade and red clay roof tiles, which could be incorporated in new development.

Ford began producing Model T cars at the plant on May 4, 1925, and the factory closed in December 2011. Check out a 3-minute video about the history of the plant below.

In December, KARE 11 and MPR News teamed to produce a story about demolition at the historic site.

The city has more information about the site demolition and remediation on this city webpage.

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