Friday’s demolition ceremony at the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) in Arden Hills served up fireworks, a high school band playing patriotic songs — and lots of faith that the city and Ramsey County can draw the right developers to the huge Superfund site.
Dozens of local, state and federal dignitaries watched outside Building 105, the former plant’s headquarters, as a crane operated by Carl Bolander & Sons dropped a 3-ton gold-colored wrecking ball on the roof. They later lined up and posed with hard hats and gold-tipped sledgehammers.
“You have to celebrate, you have to move things forward, and you have to keep people’s attention,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, explaining the unusual pomp that launched the two-year project to clear the 427-acre site of 40 factory and office buildings and clean it to residential standards.
It’s a $22.6 million job for Ramsey County, which paid $4.9 million to the federal government for the property when the deal closed in April. Now county officials are working with Arden Hills in a unique joint powers arrangement to guide the site’s redevelopment.
County Board Chair Rafael Ortega called it “visioning” — checking in with the community to see what people want on the site and how they respond to different ideas. Most believe the site will have room for a mix of uses, including housing, business and light industry.
The county would recoup its investment from sale of the property.
“We don’t have to make a deal right now. We’re in no hurry. We’re going to clean it up,” Ortega said.
No developers have lined up yet to bid on the site, although Ortega and County Commissioner Blake Huffman said several companies had informally expressed interest.
“We’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity up here to do some neat things,” Huffman said.
Nevertheless, the want of solid prospects is worrisome to Reinhardt, one of two commissioners who voted against buying the property because of the risk to county taxpayers.
“My concern is that there is no guarantee, and I had questions about the funding,” she said.
But the board voted otherwise, and she joined a majority of commissioners Tuesday in approving the sale of $12 million in taxable bonds to clean up the site, the first of two installments to pay for remediation. “This is the beginning, not the end,” she said.
The partners also are hoping for help from the state to improve the highways surrounding the site. Millions to do so were contained in the bonding bill that didn’t pass this session.
TCAAP, the state’s biggest Superfund site and the largest undeveloped tract in Ramsey County, has seen redevelopment plans come and go before. Ryan Cos. had picked it for a massive project in 2009 but backed out as the economy went under. The Minnesota Vikings wanted to build a stadium there, but funding stalled and attention turned to Minneapolis.
It’s a California-shaped chunk of a 2,400-acre site owned for decades by the federal government and used to make small-arms ammunition during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The U.S. Army still uses much of the larger site for training, and about 100 acres adjoining the site is a wildlife preserve.
Another large-scale demolition project in the East Metro is slated to begin Monday, when crews gather at Ford’s former assembly plant in St. Paul to begin tearing down the paint building. Demolition there is expected to continue through 2014.