After spending $32 million and 32 months to purchase and clear away old buildings and contaminated soil, Ramsey County has settled on a developer for the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant land in Arden Hills.
The Joint Development Authority Board made up of Arden Hills and Ramsey County elected officials voted unanimously Monday to select Alatus LLC as master developer. The Minneapolis-based firm will lead the transformation of the 427-acre site, now called Rice Creek Commons, from a Superfund site to a planned mixed-use community with open space.
"Alatus provided the best option for multiple choices of housing, the quick start at town center and a residential site and the financial and visionary capacity to do the job," said David Sand, chair of the authority.
Alatus' recent projects include the refashioning of Block E into Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis.
The U.S. Army and manufacturers had used the site off and on for about 60 years to produce ammunition until 2005. The county bought it in 2013 from the federal government for $28.5 million. But to convert it into development-ready land, another $2.5 million was spent to demolish buildings and remove hazardous materials from the soil.
"All along this has been our goal to get to the point where we had a master developer for the site, and we got there tonight," said Heather Worthington, deputy county manager.
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Over the next six months the authority and the developer will negotiate a development agreement based on the current master plan and then the purchase agreement. Both should be finalized by the end of the year, Worthington said.
The project will be completed in phases, taking at least a decade, Sand said. The plan includes single and multi-family homes, commercial space, bike paths, retail and restaurants. Some of the land will remain open.
"I think the economy is at the right spot for the success of Arden Hills and Ramsey County," Sand said.
The first phase of the project is expected to yield 300 to 400 houses out of a total 1,431.
Ramsey County hopes to begin construction next spring by building a $17 million main road. The county's debt will be repaid over a number of years, Worthington said.
The county is awaiting word — expected in the spring — from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency that the soil is clean enough for residential construction.
Adjacent to Interstate 35W, and about 10 miles north of downtown Minneapolis, it's one of the largest parcels in the Twin Cities area.
Two other developers, Opus Group and Ryan Companies, also made presentations.
Board member and Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega said his choice was Opus because of its impressive projects in the works but would support the board's choice. He added the county went "out on a limb for the project."
"It's important that the county come whole."