Even for a Superfund site, it was a lovely day for a groundbreaking ceremony.

Thursday's blue skies reflected the sunny mood shared by public officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton, who attended the official kickoff of the Northern Stacks industrial redevelopment project in Fridley. The $100 million-plus venture, ultimately expected to create 3,000 jobs, involves erecting 10 to 12 office/industrial buildings on the 122-acre site, once the home of Northern Pump Co.

The pump company, which opened at the East River Road location during World War II, enjoys a rich history of producing gun turrets and barrels for the U.S. Navy, and employing more than 12,000 in its heyday. But the manufacturing operations there used large amounts of solvents and chemicals in production, many of which were disposed of on-site, causing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to later declare it a Superfund site.

While the banana-colored building from the early days still remains — occupied by a handful of businesses, including BAE Systems — redevelopment of the polluted site has been stymied due to its Superfund status.

"We had one developer early on who told us that even if we gave the land away for free, it would still be too expensive to redevelop," said Fridley Mayor Scott Lund.

Enter Paul Hyde of Minneapolis-based Hyde Development, a firm well-versed in brownfield redevelopment.

"Maybe it could be just like what was there in its heyday in the Second World War and after," as a prime employer, Hyde said. "I'm really excited about bringing it back, and doing it in a way where there will be a stable group of different companies."

Hyde was able to put together a financing package that mixed public and private sources. The public piece includes $1.3 million in grants from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, $4.5 million in tax-increment financing from Fridley's Housing Redevelopment Authority and a $547,000 brownfield cleanup grant from the Metropolitan Council.

In addition, Hyde connected with his Blake School chum David Mortenson, the third-generation president of Golden Valley-based M.A. Mortenson Co. The state's largest developer, Mortenson is providing the bulk of the private funding for the project, although the company wouldn't quantify the amount.

"Let's just say we're providing the brawn and Paul is providing the brains," Mortenson said Thursday.

He noted that Hyde aptly named the limited-liability company developing the site Honey Badger LLC, after the persistent omnivore that was a YouTube sensation.

"Paul is like the Honey Badger, the most determined animal you've ever seen," Mortenson said.

'Astonishing, unbelievable'

Dayton lauded the cooperation between the public and private sectors on the project: "You could say it's astonishing, unbelievable, unprecedented, it's terrific. A great accomplishment."

The environmental cleanup of the site began in the 1980s — but it's expected to be delisted from the federal Superfund list this year, according to Hyde.

One of the key selling points in the effort was the site's proximity to Interstate 694 as well as rail service, plus the overall dearth of development-ready industrial land within the desirable Interstate 494-694 loop. The project is being touted by the developers as the "Twin Cities' largest infill commercial redevelopment."

The first phase of the project involves constructing a 213,000-square-foot bulk warehouse on a speculative basis. Hyde says he is actively marketing the space with Colliers International and he has "four or five really good prospects." The building, located on what is now a parking lot, is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year, with a tenant moving in shortly after.

The entire project is expected to take three to four years to complete. The old Northern Pump building will eventually be torn down, but the original smokestacks will be preserved. Painted on one is an E and five stars, denoting the "Battle E" awards given out by the Navy for excellence and efficiency. Hence, the project's name — Northern Stacks.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752