ST. PAUL NOTES | How many jobs and how many cars in new St. Paul development?

Carla Olson and John Schatz stood in front of the fenced-in, weed-covered site at 650 Pelham Monday morning, holding a sign and inviting people to sign a petition opposing the Port Authority’s current plan for development of the property.

Since the property is now vacant and generating neither jobs nor tax revenue, development would seem to be a priority, but lots of local residents say the current plans should be modified. The St. Paul Port Authority, which bought the property for $2.6 million in 2009 and then poured in another million dollars in clean-up costs, wants to sell it to a private developer who will build a one-story warehouse and office facility surrounded by parking areas. There are no confirmed tenants for the building, though the Port Authority says that the developer must guarantee at least 68 jobs on the site for at least 10 years.

The Union Park District Council is appealing city approval of the development plan, with City Council hearings on the appeal set for October 5 at 5:30 p.m. in city hall, with a second session on October 12.  St. Anthony Park Community Council and the Desnoyer Park Improvement Association have opposed the plan, though UPDC is the only council formally carrying the appeal forward.

Schatz and Olson explained some of the objections to the plan. They’d like to see a building plan that puts the building up close to the sidewalk, with parking behind it. They’re also concerned about the amount of planned parking — 196 spaces plus truck bays, saying that sounds more like a parking lot for the nearby light rail station than the needed parking for a warehouse building. The UPDC website says they want the building

… to be built up to the corner of Pelham and Wabash, be at least a two occupied story building, have architecturally emphasized doors and windows, confirmed tenants for the building prior to construction so that it does not sit empty, move all parking to the back of the building or underground, and adhere to standards set forth in the Raymond Station Area Plan, Central Corridor Development Strategy, Merriam Park Master Plan, St Anthony Park Community Plan, Mississippi River Corridor Plan, and by the preliminary guidelines set forth by the West Midway Task Force.

“This is not the highest and best use of the land,” said Schatz, a Desnoyer Park resident.

Kelly Jameson at the Port Authority said that the purchase of the building by John N. Allen’s Industrial Equities firm will be finalized after the appeal is decided. The Port Authority could not confirm the purchase price, except to say that it will be more than one dollar and less than the Port Authority spent to acquire the property. Until the purchase agreement is closed, said Jameson, it’s still “up for negotiation but not something we can share publicly at this point.”

The Port Authority is about creating jobs and increasing tax base, said Jameson.

The district councils agree with those aims, but want more conditions, especially for a development that is benefiting from public investment. In a September 25 letter, the SAPCC wrote:

The choices made in development of this site will set the stage for future development of the surrounding properties.  Building an industrial unit without proper design standards and community input that take into account the location of the site … would reduce the likelihood of unified, pedestrian and bike friendly development of other nearby sites in the future.   … The City has spent countless hours and dollars developing the Central Corridor light rail project and standards for the surrounding developments, from housing to business to industrial.  These first few new developments beginning with the Meridian Industrial Center will set a noticeable precedent for the standards and considerations of future development.

The questions raised are significant for the communities involved (St. Anthony Park on the north side of the freeway and Union Park on the south side), and for the city as a whole.

  • What kind of job-creation guarantees should be required of a developer who benefits from public investment?
  • What kind of development is the best use of land bordered by a freeway, an industrial area, a school and a mixed-use transit-oriented development area with existing housing?
  • How can safety and accessibility be maximized on Pelham, which is the only north-south route between the Mississippi River and Cretin Avenue?
  • What is needed to produce both tax revenues for the city and return on investment for the developer?

Care to comment? The comment section (below) is open, and Wednesday’s hearing is open to the public.

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.

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