Bullets to boulevards: Ex-Twin Cities ammo plant ready to develop

Army ammunitions plant
The former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, which was considered a possible site for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, occupies 427 acres. The site is on its way to becoming developed land.
Jeffrey Thompson / MPR Photo 2011

One of the largest undeveloped properties in the metro area is about to hit the market.

Ramsey County officials say the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site could have its first land sale and development contracts signed by next summer and be on its way to creating housing for thousands of new residents.

• Related: Forged and forgotten: Plant helped win World War II

For about 60 years, the U.S. Army and manufacturers made ammunition at the 427-acre Arden Hills property. That ended in 2005. Ramsey County bought the Arden Hills site from the federal government two years ago for $28.5 million, then demolished buildings and cleaned soil contaminated with industrial wastes to convert it into development-ready land.

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Once the cleanup is finished, the deals may follow, Ramsey County Deputy Manager Heather Worthington said. "I think in the next six months we'll be inking a couple of deals for land sales and development."

Maps  of the development site
These maps depict the location of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.
Courtesy of Ramsey County

The county will make all environmental study data available, and the cleanup will meet residential standards and the federal government will have to pay to take care of any pollution that wasn't disclosed before the county's purchase, she added.

Developers may still use the site's pollution history as a bargaining chip, said Jay Demma a real estate market researcher with firm Perkins+Will. "If all the risk is with the buyer, then that buyer is going to negotiate a much much lower price," Demma said.

Builders are calling already. Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman says he gets at least one call a week from companies interested in the project, which is expected to create subdivisions large enough to house 4,000 people along with retail and commercial areas.

The county, though, should put parcels on the market gradually, he added. "We're not going to over build the site immediately," Huffman said. "We think the whole site is going to take maybe up to 10 years to build out."

The site needs a final master plan and roads. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved $29 million for road and transportation projects, including bridges and interchanges connecting to the property. The county will likely pay for a four-lane road through the center of the property, which engineers estimate will cost around $13 million, Worthington said. The county board has not yet voted on funding for that road.

Army ammunitions plant
Signs of the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant remained visible in this May 2011 photograph.
Jim Mone / AP 2011

Officials estimate the ammo site project could raise the population of Arden Hills by 40 percent. After years of political hand wringing over the cleanup and who would pay for it, development is long overdue, said Pete Aplikowski, a Shoreview real estate agent.

Some residents remain concerned about increased traffic around the site, though they know development is part of the future.

Kristen Mathisen has lived near the old munitions compound for three decades and loves the unused open space.

"I would have no problem with it sitting forever undeveloped," said Mathisen as she tossed a tennis ball to her beagle recently at the Rice Creek Off-Leash Park, about a mile north of the old munitions site. "The reality is it's a growing metropolitan area. So we have to accept expansion."

Editor's note: An earlier cost estimate for the central road through the property provided by a county official was incorrect. The estimated cost for the project is $13 million.