Looking Back: The 2007 Phase 1 Visioning Study

Last updated on

What were you doing ten years ago in 2007? Were you eagerly awaiting the very first iPhone or watching the new movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? I was raising a preschooler and a first grader and starting a new job. Now my preschooler is starting high school, my first grader will be a senior, that new job is a distant memory, and the iPhone is old news!


Ford Site 1923-2007

It’s hard to believe, but that’s also when the work on the plans for the Ford Site first began. The Phase 1 study started in 2006 and kicked into high gear in 2007. The primary goal of Phase 1 was “to work with the general public, a task force established by the city, city officials, Ford Motor Company and the adjacent property owners to develop a series of development scenarios for reuse of the Ford Motor Company property.”

The study report is available online (along with all the other project studies, which I’ll look at in future blog posts). It’s a really interesting read and shows how much the plans have evolved over the years with additional research and community input.

Here are four things that jumped out at me:

  1. Phase 1 was robust and encompassed a LOT of work. First, there was a 25 member task force that met 11 times between February and June. It included public and private industry representatives as well as neighbors from near the site and across St. Paul. The Phase 1 work included three large public meetings, the first project web site, a panel of developers, a multi-disciplinary consulting team, and capstone students from a University of Minnesota-Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs class! From the beginning, the city wanted a well-researched report that included views from all sides.
  2. There are two big constraints on the Ford site. The first is that the site is covered by the MSP Airport Zoning overlay. This limits the height and type of buildings that can go on the site (especially the southern part). The second constraint is the Mississippi River Critical Area Overlay. Because the site overlooks the river, there are restrictions on building height and setbacks. Starting from the very beginning, site plans have worked within these restrictions.
  3. Moving people through the site was a focus from the start. The Phase 1 task force recognized the huge opportunity to reconnect the street grid and integrate the land back into the neighborhood. Even the heavily industrial site scenario included new roads, bike lanes, and walking paths. The report includes preliminary traffic projections for each of the five plans and compares them to the traffic created by the Ford plant when it was active.
  4. The five possible scenarios show how far the plans have come since 2007. For example, three of the five plans keep the MnSCU education building (which has been completely removed). One plan included 80 acres of industrial use (reusing parts of the plant and keeping the rail line active) and almost no housing. The plans in this Phase 1 report look very different than the plans today. To me, this shows how much community input and additional research was incorporated into the plans as they evolved. Rather than “one and done,” the current plans clearly reflect the ten years’ worth of work that came after Phase 1.

I found it valuable to look back on these very first studies. It’s clear how much planning and research have gone into the site from the very first phase ten years ago and how far we’ve come since then. I’m excited to see where we’ll be ten years from now!


Looking Back is an ongoing series of posts which examines the history of St. Paul and development projects in an effort to inform how the present city was built and how the future city should be imagined.