At huge site of former Ford plant in St. Paul, cleanup is Job 1

Ford plans to put St. Paul property up for sale next year, after the 122 acres have been cleared and scrubbed.

First came the teardown. Now comes the cleanup.

Only when that’s finished, a year or so from now, will Ford Motor Co. seek a developer to determine the future of its 122 acres of choice riverfront real estate in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, where it built cars and trucks for 86 years.

In the meantime, Mayor Chris Coleman said Tuesday, St. Paul wants to do what it can to help Ford find a buyer that will follow the city’s vision for one of the biggest redevelopments in its history: housing, jobs and parks.

“This may be the best site in the country to build a 21st-century community,” said Coleman, who along with Ford site manager Mike Hogan and City Council Member Chris Tolbert gave an update to the media inside the gates at Ford Parkway and Cretin Avenue.

“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 mayor said.

Using similar language, Hogan agreed. “Ford looks forward to working with the city to move this project forward,” he said.

In the next year, Coleman said, the city will begin the process of rezoning the site for future use, convene a group of business experts to identify suitable employers, hire consultants to study how to make the site energy-efficient, evaluate mass-transit options and update neighbors through the stpaul.gov website and an online newsletter slated to be launched next month.

‘A vibrant and livable place’

After months of demolition, the Ford site looks vastly different — and much larger — than it appeared in June 2013, when an excavator first began throwing punches at the plant’s numerous factory buildings spanning 2 million square feet.

Now the site is almost completely level, with its mostly concrete surface punctuated here and there by grassy patches.

St. Paul-based Carl Bolander & Sons has begun the hard work of breaking up and hauling away the building slabs; once they’re removed, environmental testing will begin with the help of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Ford will clean the soil to industrial standards. The final job will be seeding the site, turning it into a shovel-ready grassy expanse.

Those tasks will take another year, at which point Ford should be ready to put the property on the market, Hogan said. He declined to speculate on what price the property might fetch but said Ford hoped to find a single master developer to take it over rather than a number of developers working on the site piecemeal.

It isn’t completely devoid of traces of Ford. Hogan nodded to 13 intermodal containers on the west end of the site, which he said contain the carved limestone facade and red clay roof tiles from the 1920s-era assembly building. He said Ford will offer the pieces to the developer for use in a new structure there.

“I will be very disappointed if it doesn’t find a future use,” he said.

The future of the Ford site has been of keen interest to St. Paul officials and residents since 2008, when the car company announced it would close the plant. The last vehicle went down the assembly line in 2011.

Said Coleman: “When the site is complete, it should demonstrate that we can connect people through multiple forms of transit, that community energy needs can be met on site, and that jobs, people and green space can interact to create a vibrant and livable place to work and live.”

 

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

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