Now that Ryan Cos. has emerged as the developer of the former Ford plant site in St. Paul, the company with a reputation for listening to the community is sure to get an earful.
Ryan officials remained mum Tuesday on their next steps in developing 122 acres on the Mississippi River bluff. But the property’s Highland Park neighbors said they expect the company to listen to their dreams and concerns for what city officials hope will be a high-density, eco-friendly modern urban village.
“We hope and we anticipate a high level of engagement between Ryan, the city and the communities around the Ford site,” said Robert Wales, a member of Sustain Ward 3, which favors the Ford site master plan that calls for higher density at the site.
“We hope Ryan reaches out, through district councils or neighbor groups or having community meetings where they will share information about what’s being planned.”
Even those who oppose the city’s high-density plans said they are encouraged that Ryan, developer of St. Paul’s CHS Field and Minneapolis’ Downtown East, was chosen by Ford.
“We hope that we get a personal audience, I guess, and really be part of the process,” said Bruce Hoppe, a member of Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul, a group concerned that high density will mean traffic choking neighborhood streets. “The city tried their best to make it an open process and have the community involved. But in the end, they pretty much did what they wanted to do.”
Like the neighbors, city planners on Tuesday were in a wait-and-see mode. At some point, the developer and city will start forming a development plan, and reveal how it meshes with a master plan with zoning for multifamily housing, parks and transit access. Eventually, those plans will go before the Planning Commission and City Council and be the subject of public hearings.
“We’re trying to figure out the next steps too. But, now that we have a developer, we can kind of start putting actual details down into a plan,” said Hannah Burchill, a spokeswoman for St. Paul Planning and Economic Development. “Every development is different. And this is a big one, and an important one. We want to make sure we do it right.”
The development will be one of the biggest that Ryan has handled. So, too, is the breadth of concerns it raises.
For some, the site is seen as a rare chance for St. Paul to add affordable housing while providing amenities that attract both young people and downsizing seniors. Others see the potential for a walkable neighborhood that is less reliant on cars.
Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi, said he’s concerned about residual pollution on an undeveloped section of the property, as well as the potential height of buildings to be erected in the Mississippi corridor.
Bob Moeller, owner of R.F. Moeller Jewelers and a Highland resident for all of his 50 years, said he is “thrilled” that the site is going to be redeveloped, but worries that traffic snarls will chase away potential customers if the development doesn’t account for more cars. He is friends with Dan O’Gara, whose restaurant property is being redeveloped by Ryan. Moeller said he’s encouraged by what O’Gara has said about how Ryan works with the community.
“That part gives me hope,” he said. “That they are going to try to rally the neighborhood and do this right.”
Mayor Melvin Carter, a vocal advocate of higher density and more affordable housing at the Ford site, said the expectations of Ryan will be high.
“We’ve obviously spent a lot of time building our vision for that Ford site, and I think it’s going to be critical for them to ... build on all of that time, to take all of that engagement that’s happened over the last 10 years and make sure that’s informing their site plan,” he said.
“But [also to] stay connected to community the entire time so that we can all work together to make the most of the opportunities that we have on that site.”