Nearly 10 months into the large-scale demolition of the former Ford Assembly plant in St. Paul, the site is starting to take shape as a prime piece of real estate ripe for development.
Day after day, big demolition trucks drive empty into the 122-acre site along Ford Parkway and Mississippi River Boulevard in the Highland Park neighborhood. They leave full, carrying millions of pounds of construction debris and metal. All the structures, some which stood on the site for more than 80 years, have been demolished and are now replaced by large piles of rubble.
"The piles you see are different types of metal, whether it be stainless steel, copper, structural steel," said Mike Hogan, who is in charge of the demolition site for Ford. "You'd be surprised how many different types of metal there are."
Hogan recently gave MPR News and KARE 11 a behind-the-fence tour of the demolition operation, which has transformed the property and the landscape of this neighborhood over the last several months, exposing views not seen in generations.
The Ford assembly plant shut down in 2011, and the decommissioning process has been going on ever since. First, equipment used to assemble Ranger pick-up trucks at the plant was sent to other Ford facilities. The demolition of two million square feet of structures that housed that equipment started in 2013.
Hogan said the next phase of the demolition will begin in a few weeks when the large concrete slabs and asphalt parking lots will also be demolished. The final phase of the project will begin later with site restoration, which includes grading, reseeding and building stormwater controls to prepare the property for sale to a developer.
"It is a well-oiled machine. We have to be efficient about this process but we need to keep everybody safe. We've been successful," Hogan said. "No incidents in the two years that we've been decommissioning this facility. We need to comply with the local regulations, so it all has to come together in getting the job done."
Since the demolition started, thousands of truckloads carrying millions of pounds of debris and metal have left the site. All of the metal is brought to local recyclers. Hogan said the enormous piles of debris will soon be gone.
Preservationists convinced Ford to save the facade from the old showroom. Hogan hopes it will be incorporated into any future development. Ford also plans to sell a smaller 22-acre plot of land right along the river. That's where the old steam plant is located.
The Ford site also includes underground tunnels where miners brought up sand to make glass. Hogan said the shallower tunnels will be demolished and filled. Access to other tunnels located deep in the bedrock will be cut off by bulkheads and won't interfere with future development.
"Ford recognizes its role and its responsibility to bring this property to the next phase of its existence," Hogan said. "We feel good about being part of the team, at this point, to ready this site quickly, efficiently, safely and deliver that to the people of this community."
As for any environmental contamination associated with a site home to heavy industry for so long, Hogan said there have been no surprises so far. He said Ford was already familiar with the building materials that were used and any issues, are being taken care of. What is still to come, however, is an assessment of any contamination of the soil underneath the concrete slabs.
Once demolition and restoration of the site is complete, the property will be marketed to developers, Hogan said.
It's unclear who will buy the land and what will be developed there, but there is little doubt about the potential. A prime piece of real estate, in an urban area along the Mississippi River, is an opportunity that doesn't come along often, according to residents, business owners and city officials who will all have a say in what comes next.
You can learn more about the demolition of the former Ford assembly plant on KARE 11.com.