An affordable senior housing complex at the Highland Bridge development and improvements at the Charles M. Schulz-Highland Arena are local highlights of Ramsey County’s 2021 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The County Board approved its capital spending plan in December.

CommonBond Communities will receive $4.5 million toward its plan to construct a five-story, 60-unit apartment building for low-income seniors at 830 S. Cretin Ave. The approximately $18 million project also received zoning variances from Saint Paul last fall.

The Highland Bridge building is one of two affordable housing projects county officials are working on with CommonBond. In December, the County Board issued up to $17 million for the Wilder Square Apartments on North Milton Street, which will preserve more than 130 units of affordable housing there.

The Highland Arena project is the largest upcoming local public facility project and ties into the pending demolition of the decommissioned southern water reservoir just south of the arena’s parking lot. The County Board opted to shift $1.89 million earmarked for parking lot improvements there and use it as part of $3.46 million in larger improvements. The project is a cooperative effort of the county and city parks and recreation departments, and Saint Paul Regional Water Services.

The existing parking lot, curbs and drainage infrastructure are currently in a deteriorated condition, allowing water to run into the arena and cause interior damage. The expansion of the arena in the past has added to the drainage and parking issues. Traffic flow and poor lighting are other concerns.

Changes to the lot have been discussed ever since a parking lot project won approval in the 2016-2017 CIP. When the water utility announced plans to demolish the empty 18-million-gallon reservoir and find a new use for the land, the county put its project on hold.

In early 2018, the water utility asked the city and county parks departments to work on a plan for the 4.3-acre reservoir site and parking area, as well as park amenities, but that project stalled. The current project is to demolish the reservoir, reconfigure arena parking, make other site improvements, and create a future space for city recreational fields. That work will take place this year in a design-build process led by Shaw Lundquist Associates.

 

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Having the county combine the parking lot project with the reservoir’s demolition allows the entire site to be graded and have drainage improvements made at once. It also means the parking lot improvements can be in place by the time the city has funding to complete the fields on the old reservoir site.

— Jane McClure

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