In the latest, positive step toward creating a new urban village in St. Paul, the Ford Motor Co. last week selected Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. to do the job. The local firm, with a well-known name and reputation for working well with communities, will develop the high-density, multiuse project envisioned for the former Ford site in the Highland Park neighborhood.
Choosing a company with that kind of track record is especially important for this project. Although Ford and the city have signed off on a master plan that could bring more than 4,000 new residents, some neighbors still oppose that level of density and continue to seek compromises.
But city officials — even a council member who voted against the development blueprint — lauded the selection based on Ryan’s record. Mayor Melvin Carter said in a statement that Ryan “will be a great partner,” a view shared by former Mayor Chris Coleman, who worked with Ford and the community for much of the last decade to develop a plan.
Even more encouraging is that some neighborhood opponents praised Ryan’s selection and expressed optimism about working with the local firm.
Because it will be doing business on its own turf, Ryan has great incentive to collaborate with neighbors. To their credit, Ryan officials said in a statement last week that the company “will immediately begin an extensive due diligence period to understand the history and complexities of the site.” They committed to working with the city and community on a more detailed development plan.
Last year, St. Paul’s Planning Commission and City Council approved a master plan that divides the 122-acre riverside property into six districts that allow for higher building heights (up to 10 stories) away from the river. Residential townhouses and multifamily buildings along five blocks of Mississippi River Boulevard E. would be limited to two to four stories.
In addition to housing, an estimated 1,500 jobs could be added. The city will change the zoning for the area from industrial to commercial/residential, with some setback and open-space requirements.
The success of other Twin Cities projects such as Excelsior on Grand and West End in St. Louis Park — along with Downtown East in Minneapolis — bodes well for the Ford site, which provides excellent access to transit. The project should expand St. Paul’s tax base to help hold down property taxes, and it’s consistent with the city’s 2040 plan for growth.
Although the general plan is in place, there’s still room for Ryan and area residents to discuss parking, traffic flow, additional streets and perhaps building heights. Following its success with other developments in St. Paul, including CHS Field, Ryan is well-positioned to collaborate with city and community on a great addition to Highland Park.