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River Services took over operations in 1991, a time that Christensen recalled as “wild.”
“It was just crazy trying to keep things running, keeping everything afloat … but it was good times,” he said.
But the arrival of ethanol plants hurt their grain business; the grain elevator closed a decade ago. The city put a stop to shipments of de-icing salt. Major customers of coal and other commodities left. And the location never quite worked as well as for many businesses as those farther down the river.
“I don’t think it was that well thought-out when it was built … it seems like it’s been contentious ever since it was completed,” said Christensen.
City officials have acknowledged that the venture was born partly out of desire to compete with St. Paul, even as that drive stopped a long time ago.
As long ago as the 1990s, “a decision was made to get out of it and we’ve made no investment in adding equipment, maintaining equipment, keeping up with the times for contracts that could be landed to run a barging operation,” said Carrie Flack, a senior project coordinator for the city. “We’ve just been in a holding pattern.”
The city has long examined how to redevelop the site as part of a broader vision for the upper riverfront, amending a plan last year that calls for linking it to the Grand Rounds park system, bringing in new businesses and improving public access to the river.
Even after the terminal closes, the process of bringing in developers will not be quick. The 48-acre site will have to be surveyed, the structures will have to be demolished, and a road will have to be built for the area to even be attractive for businesses.
There has been broader discussion in recent years of closing the locks, which would require an act of Congress. That is particularly due to the threat of invasive Asian carp but also because of the slowing business: In a recent five-year period, the tons of commodities that went through the Upper Locks at St. Anthony Falls declined by 47 percent.
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210