By Jane McClure

A plan to expand the area where tax increment financing (TIF) from the 122-acre Highland Bridge development may be spent was unanimously recommended for approval by the Saint Paul Planning Commission on September 4.

The plan now goes to the Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board and City Council. If it is approved, traffic improvements and other public infrastructure in the surrounding Highland Park neighborhood could be paid for with the help of $9 million in TIF drawn from the future additional property tax revenue generated on the site of the Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant.

The proposed TIF expansion would not enlarge the area from which property tax revenue may be collected, just where it may be spent. That would allow the city to address some longstanding concerns related to the site’s development.

The Highland District Council (HDC) voted 10-4-2 on September 3 to recommend the expansion of the TIF area. Supporters contend the expansion would allow the city to address anticipated traffic issues related to the Ford site’s redevelopment and its projected addition of 3,800 new homes, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 315,000 square feet of office and institutional space.

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The roads leading to and from the Ford site in Highland Park may see traffic control upgrades with help from $9 million in tax increment financing generated by the large-scale redevelopment project.

“We heard from the community that they want the traffic impacts addressed (beyond the Ford site),” said HDC board member Kevin Gallatin.

Under its agreement with the city, Ford site master developer Ryan Companies is responsible for improving three intersections adjacent to the Ford site: Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenue, Ford Parkway and Cretin Avenue, and Cleveland and Montreal Avenue.

 

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The expansion of the TIF area would provide a funding source for new traffic signals, street reconfigurations and other public infrastructure north, east and south of the Ford site as far as Randolph, Fairview, Montreal and Magoffin avenues and Return Court. Projects in those areas could thus be financed without having to compete for limited funds through the city’s Capital Improvement Budget process.

Some HDC members opposed the TIF expansion on principle for how it would take away increased property tax revenue from local government. “(The tax dollars) should be going to schools, they should be going to the fire department,” said HDC board member Lynn Varco.

Opponents asked that the proposed TIF expansion be reviewed by the HDC’s Transportation or Community Development committees first. However, the Planning Commission vote did not allow for such a delay. Others asked why Ryan Companies does not pay for the traffic improvements.

“We heard from the community that they want the traffic impacts addressed (beyond the Ford site),” said HDC board member Kevin Gallatin.

Ryan Companies has no obligation to pay for traffic improvements outside of the development site, added HDC board chair Michelle Doyle.

The proposed expansion of the Ford TIF project area would also allow the use of property tax revenue to cover the cost of a bicycle and pedestrian connection and stormwater management improvements between Highland Bridge and nearby Hidden Falls Regional Park.

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