I support redevelopment of the Ford site, and I believe the people who have raised concerns about the City’s plan do as well. This is not a typical vacant industrial site. The Ford site is a once in a generation redevelopment opportunity and Saint Paul is one of the few major metropolitan areas that have dealt with redevelopment on this scale in recent years. But these redevelopment challenges are not unique to the Ford site – we have examples of this all around our city in Payne-Phalen, on the East Side at the old 3M site, along the Midway, and on the West Side. My dream for the Ford site is a development that enhances our existing neighborhood, adds tax base value to the entire city and creates a more vibrant city with housing options, jobs, locally-owned retail, and expands the amount of green space for use by our residents.
I am concerned that the current plan is not balanced and is not fully integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. Importantly, I believe that rezoning of the entire Ford site at this time is premature. Zoning is the City’s primary tool for encouraging quality development. Zoning is the single best card in our hand, and we are playing that card too soon – well before other cards are on the table.
A number of significant items are unknown:
- Timing of development: Ford has not set a firm timeline for putting the site on the market. We may be years away from shovels going into the ground.
- The future housing/retail market: Over the past ten years, we have seen a major recession, a dramatic shift in home ownership, and an increasing loss of demand for retail space due to online shopping. No one – not even the best urban planners – knows what will happen in the next ten years as this site is actually developed.
- Transit: The plan relies heavily on mass transit. Yet, currently, transit service to the site is unclear. There are numerous mass transit decisions – including the route of the Riverview corridor – that will inform possible density on the Ford site.
Our ace is zoning, and I believe we are playing that card too early, thus giving Ford and unnamed developers greater leverage than necessary. Zoning the site prior to the selection of a developer limits our ability to negotiate important community amenities including pedestrian and bike enhancements, green space and design and material standards. These amenities will increase the value of the site’s tax base as well as allowing the city to mitigate any negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
Many people have devoted countless hours to get us where we are today. We need to apply that work to the future development and we need to listen to those who have recently engaged. Most of all, however, we need to be smart about how we guide the private developers who will invest in the site to build the community we all want to see and enjoy.
Our next Mayor will have a strong voice in how this land develops. As Mayor, I will be thoughtful, I will listen to neighbors, and I will ensure that the development makes our neighborhood and City stronger. This is how we define legacy.