On a 122-acre site along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minn., where Ford Motor Co. operated a plant for 84 years until it closed in 2011, Ryan Companies recently broke ground virtually on an ambitious mixed-use development named Highland Bridge. When completed, this transformed community will feature 3,800 housing units, 265,000 sf of office space, 150,000 sf of retail space, 50,000 sf of civic or institutional space, and 55 acres of public and open space with over 10 bike and pedestrian paths covering five miles.
This $1.3 billion project—whose funding includes $320 million in public and private investments for parks, infrastructure, affordable housing, and tax-increment financing—has been a decade in the making. Bringing the master plan to life involved 45 public meetings that drew 1,300 attendees, and 80 presentations to business, civic, and nonprofit groups.
In 2017, Ford enlisted CBRE for the land-sale phase, and Ryan Companies was awarded the parcel in the spring of 2018. “We had a good partner in Ford, and the Mayor and City Council were supportive, and ultimately came to the table with a large public investment,” says Tony Barranco, Ryan Companies’ senior vice president of development. He adds that Ford “to its credit” let the city guide the redevelopment.
Last December, Ryan and the city entered into a public-private partnernship. Ryan also partnered with Xcel Energy to achieve the goal of providing 100% renewable energy to the site through a subscription-based program that would allow residents and businesses to tap locally generated solar and hydro power. Electric charging stations will be available throughout the community’s six zoning districts.
Ryan is the master developer on Highland Bridge, and has about 200 employees working on this project, including its Ryan A+E group that is the architect and civil engineer. Barranco says that Ryan intends to subcontract some of the production and design.
Pulte Homes, the national brand of PulteGroup, the nation’s third-largest home builder, will build and deliver 320 row homes that range from 1,900 to 3,000 sf and whose prices will start in the upper $300,000s. Pulte plans to begin construction this winter, and deliver its first units during the Winter of 2021.
The communitiy's 55 acres of park and open space will include public plazas.
A MIX OF MARKET-RATE AND AFFORDABLE HOMES
One-fifth of Highland Bridge’s housing will be earmarked for low- and medium-income buyers. Three hundred eighty homes will target households earning 30% of the area median income, 190 units will target households earning 50% of AMI, with another 190 for households earning 60% of AMI. The builders Project for Pride in Living, CommonBond Communities, and Habitat for Humanity will deliver most of the affordable housing for the community.
Twin Cities-based Presbyterian Homes will develop Highland Bridge’s senior living component. And Weidner Apartment Homes will be the primary developer of the community’s market-rate multifamily housing.
The development team for Highland Bridge also involves Wells Fargo (the financing partner for land acquisition and infrastructure development), CBRE (retail leasing), Colliers International (financing for tax-increment funds for infrastructure), the Capitol Regional Watershed District (stormwater management and watershed sustainability), and the Metropolitan Council (community planning).
Barranco says the buildout for Highland Bridge should be completed in 15 years. The initial infrastructure will be put in place by the fall of 2021, and the rest by 2025. The bulk of the vertical construction will be completed over the next five to 10 years.
Water features will be among the public amenities at Highland Bridge.
“It’s an incredible piece of property, in an established neighborhood,” says Barranco. “It’s not often that you get the chance to redevelop 122 acres, and of all the challenges, probably the biggest is the massive expectation about getting it right.”
He says that project’s proximity to the Mississippi River “is definitely an asset” because of the river’s existing trail system and hydro-electric opportunities. He notes that there are setback and height requirements that the redevelopment must adhere to.
When asked whether current events gave Ryan pause about starting this project now, Barranco replies that “while we did not anticipate a pandemic, we were deliberate that [the plan] would be durable and might go through one or two recessions.”
Obviously, the city’s leaders are optimistic: Highland Bridge is expected to add $18 million per year in new tax revenue to St. Paul’s tax base.