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Future of St. Paul's Highland Park tract undecided

Rezoning, environmental reclamation and demolition are the issues that accompany the ultimate decision on the use of 122-acre riverside tract in Highland Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. After 19 months of demolition on the site, three years after the motor plant closed and close to 90 years after Henry Ford first picked the location to build automobiles, the future of the real estate land use is still uncertain as the property awaits purchase.

The location will not be the home of a stadium or large shopping center. The Mayor of St. Paul and other city officials hope for a mix-use site that is a transit-oriented village that produces its own energy and contains all types of housing, office jobs, light manufacturing firms, entertainment and commercial and shopping amenities. The city will conduct studies on energy options and job possibilities and submit zoning recommendations to the Planning Commission.

The Ford Motor Co. site owners, however, may develop the site and continues to finish demolition, report on soil pollutants to the state and plant grass seed. Demolition continues on the site and includes crushing concrete and using it as fill for pits and depressions. Ford is also investigating groundwater contamination in a former riverside dump and drilling bores to test for soil contaminants. It will issue a report and a proposed plan to clean up the site. The location had heavy industrial use and lead and hydrocarbon have been uncovered.

The St. Paul City Council has budgeted $200,000 to employ a consultant to prepare a draft zoning plan for public review. The final draft will go to the Planning Commission and then to City Council for final approval in early 2016.

Leaders from St. Paul government and its private and public sectors intend to travel to Germany, Denmark and Sweden to visit and obtain ideas from urban developments in those countries. A community meeting is scheduled later this month to use cost-effective renewable energy to satisfy power demands at this location.

This project shows the myriad of legal, environmental and economic challenges accompanying commercial real estate transactions and development in Minnesota. Developers in Minnesota can seek help to overcome these challenges.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Watershed year ahead for St. Paul's Ford site," Kevin Duchschere, Jan. 17, 2015

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