A New Riverfront View in Downtown Saint Paul
Since 1886 the view across the river from downtown Saint Paul at the Ramsey County Courthouse included buildings topping up over the Mississippi River bluff. That all changed in 2016 as a cranes pulled down the walls and columns that made up Ramsey County's former Government Center West and the Adult Detention Center. In 2016, the majority of work for the Riverfront Properties project was completed – clearing the outdated buildings and preparing this the premier site to be shovel-ready for productive and vibrant new private development.
Hundreds of Ramsey County employees worked at Government Center West in the years between 1991 and 2013. The county had purchased the six-building complex for $1 from West Publishing when the company moved their headquarters to Eagan, Minn. Those buildings had been constructed and expanded between 1886 and 1964 as West grew its legal publishing business (since acquired by Thomson-Reuters). Next door, the former Ramsey County Jail (Adult Detention Center) was used from 1979 to 2003; it was connected to the West Buildings via skyway in the early 1990s.
After several attempts to sell the buildings to prospective developers between 2003 and 2014, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners decided to invest in the site to make it marketable. The $17 million Riverfront Properties project got underway in June 2015 as Rachel Contracting – a Ramsey County CERT business – began work on the three-phase project. The first phase was to remove and properly dispose of hazardous material from the buildings (mostly asbestos). Demolition of the buildings followed, starting with the jail and proceeding to the west. As the buildings came down, crews began pouring a massive concrete retaining wall that will prevent erosion and provide long-term stabilization of the river bluff – to which it's attached with hundreds of 45-foot long rock bolts.
In 2017, crews are crushing and hauling away the remaining piles of material and pouring concrete to complete the retaining wall. The project is on track to be substantially complete in August.
In parallel, a team of Ramsey County staff and Saint Paul business and civic leaders initiated discussions with Cardon Development Group – an Arizona company that has submitted a master development proposal for the site which includes residential, hotel, commercial and retail space. Ramsey County expects to enter into a master development agreement in the second half of 2017 to begin planning, designing and building out the site.
Similar to Ramsey County's Rice Creek Commons project, the deconstruction and redevelopment of Riverfront Properties project supports the organization's goals of Prosperity, Opportunity and Accountability. After the market had determined that the West complex and old jail were not suitable or attractive for re-use, continuing to insure and secure the empty buildings on four acres of premier riverfront real-estate was not a feasible long-term strategy. An independent analysis showed that the site could accommodate upwards of $150 million in private development. This would yield about $7 million in new annual property tax revenues, of which about $1.9 million would be collected by Ramsey County. These funds will help to relieve the property tax pressure on the county's residents and businesses. In addition, hundreds of good-paying jobs will be added downtown in the renewed commercial and civic space, reactivating this iconic site on the Mississippi River.