Ford site developer proposes fewer homes, less density

A rendering of Ryan Companies concept for the Ford Site Master Plan.
A rendering of Ryan Cos.' concept for the Ford site in St. Paul. Pictured is a possible central water feature.
Courtesy of Ryan Cos.

Almost seven years after Ford produced its last Ranger pickup trucks, buildings from the St. Paul assembly plant are long gone. Environmental cleanup crews have been removing contamination so homes and other kinds of businesses can go there.

Ryan Cos. executives outlined what they hope to build there. Tony Barranco, head of real estate development, said that in addition to offices and retail, they'll put up 3,800 homes.

Former Ford assembly plant
The 122-acre site of the former Ford assembly plant in St. Paul is being redeveloped by Ryan Cos.
William Lager | MPR News

"We're going to have seniors' housing. We're going to have row homes, which will be at a very attainable price point for both new families and for people looking to downsize and maybe not take care of a lawn. We will have affordable housing at multiple income levels," Barranco said.

Ryan also plans to build about 200 fewer homes than what the St. Paul City Council allowed in the master plan it approved last year. That plan has been controversial among residents of the surrounding Highland Park neighborhood in part because it allows maximum building heights of 10 stories.

In a nod to those concerns, Mike Ryan, who heads the firm's north region, said the tallest structures on the site will be just six stories, and designers are taking pains to ensure all their brand-new architecture fits in with a neighborhood that was built out in the '30s and '40s.

"We were not going to introduce an architectural character that was wildly distinct from the neighborhood," Ryan said. "So we really want it to reflect that charming streetcar suburb that the area is."

A rendering of Ryan Cos.' concept for the Ford Site Master Plan
Featured in this rendering is a possible park.
Courtesy of Ryan Cos.

Two of Ford's three baseball fields will remain. The southernmost one will go in order to extend Montreal Avenue into the site from the east. Cretin Avenue will connect into the new neighborhood from the north.

The developer's presentation showed bicycle and pedestrian paths, green space and a stream as focal point and a way to manage stormwater runoff.

But some Highland Park residents still worry about the extra traffic all the new residents and businesses will generate. The site is not freeway accessible. Charles Hathaway with Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul is concerned that the area's two major arteries — Ford Parkway and Cretin Avenue — will get even busier.

He likes that Ryan is proposing less density than the city plan allows, but Hathaway says there's just not enough space.

"The central problem here is putting so many people on a relatively small parcel of land. And it's far higher than anything Highland has right now."

Over the last year, other St. Paul residents have spoken out in favor of dense development. Tom Romens, who lives near the site on Mississippi River Boulevard, says the plan Ryan outlined Wednesday night is a good compromise.

"This is a sweet spot that's probably not going to please both groups, but it's a nice middle ground," Romens said.

Ryan Cos. vice president of marketing Clare Scott says managing traffic remains a concern for planners. She says the impact could be mitigated if some new residents drive less.

A rendering of an aerial view of Ryan Cos.' concept.
A rendering of an aerial view of Ryan Cos.' concept for the Ford site.
Courtesy of Ryan Cos.

"What we're finding in the market is that people are having fewer cars than they used to in the past, so it's not necessarily two people, two cars. It might be two people with one automobile or none at all," Scott said.

Ryan plans to study how the project will affect traffic. The company expects to finalize its deal with Ford to buy the land by the end of the year. There's no firm construction timeline yet. But Scott says initial work on the site could begin in about a year.

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