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St. Paul leaders recently shared new details about what they are calling the city’s “largest modern-day investment” in redevelopment, a project that promises to bring 1,000 new housing units and jobs to the Greater East Side by 2030.
About 50 people gathered at the Saint Paul Port Authority on Tuesday as Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates was announced as the lead housing developer for the project, called “The Heights.” Sherman Associates is partnering with JO Companies and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity to build new housing units at an estimated cost of $400 million. About two-thirds of the units will be classified as affordable housing, according to developers.
The Heights is located on the 112-acre former Hillcrest Golf Course at the corner of Larpenteur Avenue and McKnight Road. Twenty-four acres will be set aside for housing and 54 acres will be set aside for businesses. Other land will be reserved for a park and “passive open space,” among other uses.
Most of the $50.5 million* funding for the project’s public infrastructure, such as roads, a park, and environmental cleanup, among other costs, is secured. The hope is that another $13 million will be awarded through a state bonding bill to pay for additional infrastructure expenses.
“Folks ask me all the time, ‘Mayor, what’s your vision for St. Paul?’ And in one word, I was given the same answer. And the answer is irrelevant,” Mayor Melvin Carter said at Tuesday’s news conference. “What’s relevant is when our children, and their children—when it comes time for them to decide where they want to plant their family, where they want to keep their business—what will they be looking for? I think they’ll be looking for The Heights.”
Sherman Associates will develop 700 housing units and JO Companies will develop an apartment complex with between 110 to 230 units. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity will develop between 130 to 150 housing units of mostly townhomes and some single-family homes, according to a news release about the project.
“I’m honestly thrilled to be able to work now with these two great organizations on moving this vision forward,” said Sherman Associates President Chris Sherman. “Our team is committed to really driving forward the most effective way, listening to the community. We understand that this is one iteration that we have with this project. This vision—it’ll continue to evolve and improve.”
Sherman said that 50 percent of all the housing units will be reserved for households at 60 percent area median income or below. He added that 15 to 20 percent of the units will be reserved for households at 80 percent area median income.
The project is currently in the demolition and land remediation phase because of decades of “misuse,” according to the project’s master plan. Mercury was sprayed on the grounds to maintain the “manicured appearance” of the former golf course.
Construction on the first housing unit is scheduled to begin late next year, and the project is expected to be completed by 2030.
“I commend you all for rising to the occasion,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Mai Chong Xiong, who represents District 6, where the site is located. “It seems like it’s a drop, but you know, I believe that this drop is going to create a ripple effect into our communities.”
Last Friday, Xcel Energy committed to building a new service center at the site to create more jobs in the area.
“Let’s really build on prosperity for our folks on the East Side. Equity truly takes work and investment and time, and that is exactly what we’re putting into The Heights for folks in the East Side community,” said Council Member Nelsie Yang. Yang represents Ward 6, where the site is located.
The Greater East Side Community Council submitted an open letter in February to some city council members and the city planner supporting the project.
The Greater East Side Community Council has been involved in the project’s community engagement and planning process for years, Lisa Theis, the council’s executive director, said in an interview with Sahan Journal.
“I’m really excited, actually, about The Heights project. I think that we are a neighborhood that has been forgotten pretty much for the past couple of decades,” said Theis. “We don’t have a lot of jobs here and we are pretty resource poor. So, the opportunity to have the spotlight placed on our neighborhood is really exciting and the opportunities are endless.”
The open letter also includes concerns about the project, and urges the city officials to work with the community to ensure that housing is “truly” affordable by using the neighborhood’s median income as a guide and not regional income statistics. A third of households on the Greater East Side of St. Paul are rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Another concern outlined in the letter is the possibility of more traffic and car accidents in the neighborhood. The letter requests that the project’s traffic study be expanded to south of the site to Maryland Avenue and west of the site to White Bear Avenue.
“I really want to ensure that we’re looking beyond the borders of the site—at this neighborhood—and ensuring that the infrastructure that’s here, the resources that are here, minimum as they may be, can really be improved to support these new jobs and these new residents,” Theis said. “I think a lot of conversations still need to be had.”
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of funding for the project’s public infrastructure budget.