Seconds after the animated video of the Ford site’s future stopped playing, after hundreds of Highland Park residents watched neighbors-to-be skating on a frozen river, walking their dogs on pedestrian pathways, sipping beverages on sun-drenched patios or strolling past new row houses on tree-lined boulevards, an unexpected noise arose from the audience.


Ryan Cos. unveiled long-awaited plans Wednesday night to transform St. Paul’s former Ford Motor Co. site into a mixed-use urban village. Its vision earned mostly positive reviews from neighbors long divided over what should fill the site’s 122 acres of blank canvas.

Jeffrey Burton, who lives on Mississippi Boulevard south of the site, was not displeased.

“I remember when the factory ran three shifts,” he said of the industrial island once fenced off and impenetrable at the center of the neighborhood. “This is going to be a livable, breathable neighborhood for the first time ever.”

Tony Barranco, Ryan’s senior vice president for real estate development, said he wasn’t surprised at the applause, although he admitted company officials were “a little nervous. We put a lot of work into it.”

It’s a sweeping vision, arrived at following community listening sessions over the past several months in which residents shared preferences on everything from how tall buildings should be to what types of businesses they wanted.

Many longtime residents worried that the city’s emphasis on housing density would blot out the historic character of Highland’s stately single-family homes. Ryan officials say they plan to build less density than they could — 3,800 units of housing on 40 new city blocks, with a mix of single-family homes, condos, row houses and senior rentals.

No building would be taller than six stories, and 20 percent of the housing — 750 units — would be affordable, interspersed throughout the site.

More than 50 of the site’s 122 acres would be set aside as public-access open space, including a stormwater collection feature resembling a river flowing from the site’s northern edge at Ford Parkway to Hidden Falls at the south.

The Minneapolis-based developer announced that it will plant at least 1,000 trees, create miles of pathways — some exclusively for bicycles and pedestrians — and include a couple of Little League ballfields. Officials added they plan to create a couple of parks within the development, at least one of which will take up an entire block.

‘A lot to like’

Mike Ryan, market leader of Ryan’s north region, praised the design for balancing diverse living spaces and amenities.

“Neighborhoods like this are very rare, and I can’t imagine a location in the state where a new resident would rather live,” he said.

City officials have said the site has a potential redevelopment value of $1.3 billion and could bring in new tax revenue of more than $20 million annually. Ryan estimated Wednesday that the project will create more than 14,000 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent jobs in a variety of industries after its completion.

Construction at the property, south of Ford Parkway along the Mississippi River, could begin as soon as 2019, Ryan said.

Councilmember Chris Tolbert said Ryan’s vision “comes very close” to meeting what the city wants to see. Now, he said, the detail work begins, focused on coming up with what’s best for the neighborhood and the city.

“I think there is a lot to like,” he said.