Neighboring businesses encouraged by Ford site plans
Blake Montpetit said he took a chance by knocking down a wall of his St. Paul sports bar to make room for another 110 customers. Now that Ryan Cos. has revealed its vision for redeveloping the former Ford site, Montpetit said the expansion of Tiffany Sports Lounge looks like a pretty safe bet.
“We feel a lot better about it,” Montpetit said Thursday. “It’s not such a gamble after the presentation last night.”
To many in the surrounding Highland Park business community, it wasn’t enough that thousands of new residents and workers will be coming to the 122-acre site. It is Ryan’s plan to build a modern urban village — including parking integrated into buildings, less-than-feared density, substantially more green space and a pledge to weave the site into the surrounding neighborhood — that has business neighbors especially excited about the future.
“I am really encouraged by it. The Highland Park neighborhood is just a jewel,” said Rick Wall, CEO of Highland Bank. “Ryan recognizes that. ... Now we want to see it continue moving along.”
Bob Moeller, president and owner of R.F. Moeller Jeweler and a Highland resident for 50-plus years, appreciates Ryan’s approach.
“They seem to be very sensitive to the neighborhood,” he said. “They’re not just pushing for maximum density.”
To be sure, there will be plenty of new housing density at a site that churned out cars, then pickup trucks, from 1925 to 2011. On Wednesday night, Ryan officials detailed a development they say will create 40 new city blocks, with 3,800 units of housing ranging from single-family to condominiums to senior rentals, including 750 units of affordable housing.
It is St. Paul’s biggest redevelopment opportunity in generations. City officials have said the site has a potential value of $1.3 billion and could bring in new tax revenue of more than $20 million annually. Ryan estimated Wednesday that the project will create more than 14,000 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent jobs in a variety of industries after its completion.
At the same time, the Minneapolis developer highlighted that 50-plus acres of the site will be committed to publicly accessible open space, including 1,000 trees, numerous parks, miles of trails and an innovative stormwater system that will become a water feature.
Moeller said he’s pleased that Ryan also is talking about preserving at least two of the area’s three Little League Baseball fields. “The character of this neighborhood is important,” he said. “I don’t want to see that torn apart.”
Business owners said they’re waiting to see how the developer plans to mitigate traffic that many fear could snarl neighborhood intersections.
To Lora Horgen, manager of Stephanie’s, a clothing shop near Highland Parkway and Cleveland Avenue, the success of the site’s commercial district will hinge on Ryan’s ability to merge it into a zone of independent small businesses that have become increasingly walkable and approachable to those who live in the area.
“I think what has been happening here is a model for doing successful development on a smaller scale,” Horgen said. “If they do that right, it will just add to the great things that have been happening here.”
James Walsh • 612-673-7428