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St. Paul drives plan for Ford site, but not everyone's on board

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Former Ford plant site undergoing development.
The city of St. Paul has an ambitious plan to guide as much as $1.3 billion in redevelopment on the former Ford Plant site.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

St. Paul leaders have worked for years to craft a development plan for the old Ford truck plant site that would deliver money, jobs and people — and still complement the neighborhood streets around it.

Now, six years after the last Ranger pickup rolled off the Ford assembly line, officials believe they have a vision to sell: a city within a city, with a potential $1.3 billion development value that would be home to some 4,300 to 7,000 people, to start. They're hoping to add as many as 1,500 jobs, about two-thirds of the number employed at the truck plant when Ford started shutting it down.

Officials hope there will be enough jobs to let many residents work where they live, enough people to draw lots of transit and enough commerce to make people stick around and not turn the streets nearby into bustling highways. 

Neighbors, though, remain divided with some worried the massive proposed project will choke already busy streets in Highland Park, one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods. 

New road, trail and walking paths through the Ford site.
A draft plan for redevelopment includes extensions of existing roads, and a network of bike and pedestrian trails through the Ford plant site.
Saint Paul Planning Commission

Citizens will get a chance to speak up during a Friday morning hearing. But city officials are anxious to move forward. Ford Motor Co. is cleaning the 135-acre site and is expected to sell off its part of it as soon as next year. The city's plan is one that's succeeded in Denver, Atlanta and cities around the world, said Jonathan Sage-Martinson, St. Paul's planning and economic development director.

"We've been talking to people for 10 years about this project and what would be the great place to create as the site redevelops," said Meritt Clapp-Smith, the city planner working on the project. 

"I hear from so many people that are looking for that forward-looking neighborhood that has lots of amenities and services together, where they can walk and bike easily to things," Clapp-Smith said. "They can use transit, and they feel like there aren't that many options outside of the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis."

Some neighbors are already on board and believe an urban reboot at the Ford site will make a great neighborhood better and bring immigration, urbanization and a changing energy mix that will transform St. Paul.

"We're going to see increases in that (urban) population. Single family housing is just not going to be sustainable for that," said Rob Wales, who's part of  Sustain Ward 3, a group of residents who support the city's plan. "Promoting density, promoting different options for people to live in really started to make sense to us, as well as making a community where businesses and residences are side by side.

Others dread the prospect. They point to big rush hour traffic backups in the area already, parking crunches and the historic residential feel that makes the neighborhood so attractive. 

Former Ford plant site undergoing development.
The old Ford Plant site, seen here Wednesday.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

"It's as though this great neighborhood is being used as sort of the amenity for the benefit of the Ford site redevelopment," said Charles Hathaway who lives a few blocks from the site and supports Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul, a group of neighbors who question tax subsidies for the project, its density and the impact on home values nearby. 

"It's sort of like Highland is a great neighborhood, and we're going to use that in order to attract people to the site, " he added, "and by doing so, degrade what's great about this neighborhood."

The plan will make it the St. Paul City Council eventually but that won't be the final word on the project. The city expects it could take until nearly the year 2040 to finish building out the site.

If you go

What: Public hearing on the future of the Ford site

Where: St. Paul City Hall, 15 Kellogg Blvd. West, lower level, room 40

When: 8:30 a.m., Friday