Saying it wants to hear from as many neighbors and East Siders as possible, the developer of the former Hillcrest Golf Course is seeking community members to serve on advisory committees that will help shape the site's future.
"We see this redevelopment on the East Side as a community wealth-building opportunity for East Side residents," said Erin Jerabek Heelan, a consultant for the East Side Funders Group — a network of organizations seeking to boost economic development in the area. "Participation on the front end will ensure the local community benefits, not only economically but in making Hillcrest an asset to them."
For example, she said, community members may decide that besides jobs and housing, Hillcrest should have a playground or walking and bicycling trails throughout the neighborhood.
To entice folks to participate, the St. Paul Port Authority — the site's developer — will give $50 gift cards after each meeting attended and $25 gift cards for work done outside meetings. A $15,000 grant from the East Side Funders Group seeking to increase community outreach is paying for the gift cards.
The cards are a way to attract a broader range of people who otherwise might not think they have the time to commit to numerous meetings, Heelan said.
"We want hyperlocal to the East Side, to the neighborhood around Hillcrest," she said. "And we really want diverse neighbors to participate in the process."
The 112-acre golf course was closed in 2017 and bought by the Port Authority for $10 million. It is being redeveloped with the goals of creating 1,000 jobs and building 1,000 units of housing. The site is nearly as large as the former Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Highland Park, now called Highland Bridge.
Located at the far northeast corner of St. Paul, the site is one of the city's largest remaining open space development opportunities. As planning proceeds, sometimes contradictory visions for Hillcrest have emerged.
Planners are exploring ways to create the city's first carbon-neutral neighborhood. While some see the site as an opportunity to provide live-where-you work jobs, affordable housing advocates want even more emphasis on developing deeply affordable housing and livable wage jobs for East Side residents.
Officials have formed four workgroups focused on urban design, sustainability, outside spaces and housing. Community input is needed, they say, to help bring the site's final plan to life.
First up will be the urban design and sustainability work groups, which will meet from next January through May. Area residents wishing to get involved can apply at https://www.sppa.com/hillcrest-workgroups. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 15.
Tong Thao, who lives a couple blocks from Hillcrest and is a board member for the Greater East Side Community Council, said tapping more of the site's closest neighbors for advice about its future is the right thing to do.
"I think it's super important because those who live the closest will feel the most impact. They would see the biggest changes," he said.
Thao, who serves on the site's overall advisory committee, said he likes what he has seen from the Port Authority — an emphasis on light manufacturing jobs and a blend of single-family homes with medium density and higher density options.
"I think it's going to make a big difference to this area," he said.