Space will be used for soccer fields, dirt and concrete as fill for Ford site

By Jane McClure

Demolition of Highland Park’s decommissioned southern water reservoir just south of Ford Parkway and Snelling Avenue is moving ahead this construction season. The 4.3-acre site is expected to eventually be converted to fields for youth soccer and other sports.

The St. Paul Board of Water Commissioners was to vote on the demolition in May, but delayed action until June 9 at the request of Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert, who wanted to make sure all needed agreements were in place first. Tolbert added language to the demolition resolution calling for St. Paul Regional Water Services staff to continue to work with the city on a long-term lease for park and recreation facilities on the site.

“This has the potential to be a win-win for everyone, but we have to make sure all of the pieces fall into place,” Tolbert said.

Highland reservoir
Highland Park’s decommissioned southern water reservoir just south of Ford Parkway and Snelling Avenu.

The 18-million-gallon reservoir was built in 1926, but has not been used for more than five years. It is made of reinforced concrete, is 430 feet long by 322 feet wide by 21 feet deep, and has more than 350 interior columns supporting its roof. Demolition costs have been estimated at $1.1 million.

Water Services staff will meet this summer with the Highland District Council to discuss the timing of the project and the measures that will be taken to reduce the potential impact of the demolition on neighbors.

The reservoir’s demolition this year will precede a 2021 Ramsey County project to reconstruct and expand its parking lot at the adjacent Charles M. Schulz-Highland Arena. That work also will include upgraded lighting and landscaping. The county has allocated $275,000 this year for design work and $1.9 million in 2021 for construction.

 

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Dirt and crushed concrete from the reservoir’s demolition will be used as fill for the redevelopment of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant. Construction at the Ford site is now getting underway.

“This has the potential to be a win-win for everyone, but we have to make sure all of the pieces fall into place,” Tolbert said.

The water utility has been looking at the reuse of the reservoir property since 2017. Eleven proposals were originally reviewed, including a greenhouse, solar garden, Hy-Vee supermarket and housing. In March 2018, the water board shelved all private-sector proposals and asked the St. Paul and Ramsey County parks and recreation departments to jointly develop ideas for the property.

The city presented two conceptual plans. One would create three youth soccer fields and a lacrosse field. The other would provide two youth soccer fields and two baseball fields. The costs for the city proposals were expected to top $2 million at that time.

County officials brought up such ideas as expanding the ice arena and sharing parking and field space with the city. The county has since dropped any plans other than parking lot work.

Funding for the fields project would likely come through the city’s Capital Improvement Budget. There is also a chance of funding through the state’s 2020 bonding bill. In January, Governor Tim Walz recommended approval of $329,000 to develop a plan for a regional sports center in St. Paul. The request came from the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC).

The request is for a four-field complex that could accommodate soccer, rugby, lacrosse and other sports. The facility would have a total cost of $8.9 million. One site that city officials have been eyeing for those new fields is the water reservoir after its removal.

MASC does not select sites, but works with local governments to choose sites and develop sports facilities. The commission has been seeking funding for a sports facility in the eastern metro area for several years without success.

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