Sources of energy and transportation, rivers proved attractive to myriad burgeoning industries for generations. But as our economy changed, so, too, has industry and community interests. Many cities across the country have reclaimed their riverfronts with innovative redevelopment projects – and two proposed plans in the Twin Cities are hoping to follow suit.

Recently, state lawmakers arrived in North Minneapolis to learn about the Upper Harbor Terminal project.

A rendering of the Upper Harbor Terminal Project in north Minneapolis.

“The investments we want from the state will go to community members in my district,” said Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Minneapolis). Over the years, heavy industry left its mark, along with a lot of vandals, leaving the site in a state of decay.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told lawmakers that, “We are sitting right now on the site of our number one Capital Bonding priority in the form of Upper Harbor Terminal.” The sweeping plan is one of Mayor Frey’s priorities. Acres of riverfront blight would be transformed into new housing, businesses and an outdoor performance venue. “This is 40 acres right on our riverfront, one-mile stretch, 40 percent of which is going to be park land and green space,” he added.

The current view of the North Minneapolis riverfront.

On the riverfront in Minneapolis, one of the building is currently being used to grow mushrooms. While the business owner has expressed concerns about the project, the mayor responded, “We’re looking to do this with the community in a way that doesn’t displace some of the wonderful economic growth that will happen here.”

The legislature already funded $15 million of site prep, and now the city is asking for $20 million more in bonding money to continue to move the development forward for a performing arts center that would be open to the public 300 days a year. “It proves to be one of the most unique sites in the country because ownership of city of Minneapolis, the amenities, but also has challenges. We have an active rail load you encountered that,” said Erik Hansen from Minneapolis Economic Development.

A rendering of the Ford Plant redevelopment project.

On the other side of the river, a second riverfront redevelopment project was announced in Saint Paul during some rather wintery weather. The former site of the Ford Plant, the area spans more than 100 acres, and was used to manufacture cars from 1925 until its closure in 2011. “Welcome to the bold north. It’s absolutely the right weather to be out here. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be with you in our great Capital City,” said Governor Tim Walz, who expressed excitement for the plan in the bustling Highland Park neighborhood. “It says something: We’re resilient [and] this incredible piece of history that sits on this piece of land [means that] the future looks bright here.”

A rendering of some of the green space included in the Ford Plant redevelopment plan.

Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter described the project as “probably one of the biggest undertakings Saint Paul has ever taken on. It’s amazing to feel the energy here. For more than a decade, we have worked to create a vision that matches the big ideas we have for the future of our city.” The ambitious plan includes 50 acres of public-access open space, along with ample green space, office and retail options, and nearly 4,000 housing units with $27 million in affordable housing. The plans also calls for 100 percent of the electricity in the entire development to be renewable.

An aerial view of the Ford Plant redevelopment project.

“I couldn’t be more excited to share with you that the city of Saint Paul and Ryan Companies have finalized a redevelopment plan for the Ford Site and are preparing to bring it before the Saint Paul City Council before the end of this year,” Mayor Carter announced. Overall, it’s a $92 million project with more than $30 million in private investment, including nearly $7 million in Capital Improvement Bonds and state aid. Once fully built, the site is projected to generate $1 billion in property tax revenue – all stats that state and local political and business leaders were delighted to announce.

Stay tuned to Almanac, which airs on TPT2 on Fridays at 7 pm and on Sundays at 9:30 am, for ongoing coverage of these projects as plans shake out.

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The historic Ford Plant site that Saint Paul lawmakers and business owners, alike, hope to redevelop was once a sterling achievement in efficient manufacturing. Discover 6 facts about the site, which was once considered “the most beautiful industrial plant in the world.”

Explore the multi-faceted past of North Minneapolis in the full-length documentary Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis.

One of the wettest years on record, floods wreaked havoc on Minnesota communities in 2019. Almanac reporter Mary Lahammer recently visited Henderson, Minn., a town turned into an island due to floodwaters this year. She investigates how the town would use some much-needed bonding money as state lawmakers tour projects around the state in need of investment.