Committee favors approval of district expansion for Highland Bridge

By Jane McClure

Traffic improvements and other new infrastructure in neighborhoods surrounding the Ford site could be paid with up to $9 million in tax increment financing (TIF) generated by the Highland Bridge development if an expansion of the Ford TIF project area is approved by the Saint Paul City Council and Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) board.

The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Comprehensive and Neighborhood Committee has recommended approval of that expansion. The full Planning Commission will review the proposal on September 4.

The city of Saint Paul has had a TIF district in place at the Ford site for several years in anticipation of the redevelopment of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant in Highland Park. TIF can be used to subsidize new streets and utilities and other redevelopment costs by diverting a portion of the future increase in the property taxes generated by the development. The proposed expansion would not enlarge the area in which TIF is collected, but it would expand the area where TIF can be spent, allowing the developer and the city to address off-site concerns related to the redevelopment project.

   
An artist's rendering of the central water feature of Highland Bridge, looking north toward Ford Parkway.

“The purpose of this project area expansion is to be able to pay for the needed transportation system improvements (around the Ford site),” said Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert. “These are things people in the community have pushed for.”

“The purpose of this project area expansion is to be able to pay for the needed transportation system improvements (around the Ford site),” said City Council member Chris Tolbert, whose Ward 3 includes the 122-acre site of the newly christened Highland Bridge. “These are things people in the community have pushed for.”

Ford site traffic studies “called out a lot of things we can do to ease any future traffic problems (on streets leading to and from Highland Bridge),” Tolbert said. “Using TIF allows the project itself to help pay for the improvements instead of going to the city’s capital improvement budget or general fund.” Tolbert said he is cautious when it comes to relying on TIF, noting that it can be misused. However, in the case of Ford, the traffic improvements make sense, he said.

 

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Currently, the Ford TIF may only be spent on the 122-acre site, polluted property Ford still owns along the Mississippi River, the south side of Ford Parkway all of the way to Cleveland Avenue, and Cleveland Avenue as far south as Montreal Avenue.

The proposal would expand the area for spending TIF from Ford Parkway north to Randolph Avenue between Mississippi River Boulevard and Fairview Avenue, east to Fairview between Randolph and Montreal Avenue, south along the west side of Cleveland to Magoffin Avenue and Return Court, and west from the end of Magoffin to the Mississippi River. 

The projects that the Ford TIF could pay for in that expansion area are outlined in the alternative urban area review (AUAR) for the Ford site, an environmental impact study completed in 2019. They include filling in sidewalk gaps and updating traffic signals at key intersections.

In its redevelopment agreement with the city, Ford site master developer Ryan Companies is responsible for improving three intersections as recommended in the AUAR: Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenue, Ford Parkway and Cretin Avenue, and Montreal and Cleveland avenues. About $4 million in TIF has been earmarked to improve traffic signals and make other changes at those intersections. The AUAR identified another $5 million in transportation improvements in the proposed TIF expansion area.

Though traffic patterns could change over time, the AUAR recommends several streets and intersections for signal timing changes, parking restrictions, extended turn lanes and other traffic mitigation strategies. Those recommendations address traffic concerns as far away as Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis and Saint Paul Avenue and West 7th Street in Saint Paul, though the proposed expansion of the Ford TIF project area would not extend that far. In the expansion area, TIF could also help cover the costs of stormwater management and bike and pedestrian trails between Highland Bridge and Hidden Falls Regional Park.

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