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Ford Site Redevelopment

Sustainable Stormwater Management for Highland Bridge, a New Community in Saint Paul

The former Ford Assembly Plant in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul is one of the largest land tracts open to redevelopment in the Twin Cities. It represents a unique opportunity to redevelop 122 acres of land atop the Mississippi River bluff, and Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) and its partners are working to create a future for the Ford Site with clean technologies and high-quality design for stormwater management, energy, buildings and infrastructure.

Ryan Companies, as master developer of the site, will be charged with executing the City’s plan. In Summer 2020, Ryan Companies announced a new name for the site: Highland Bridge.

The Challenge

Stormwater runoff from the former Ford site primarily drains to Hidden Falls Creek, which flows to the Mississippi River. The creek was buried and paved over prior to construction of the assembly plant. Since then, impervious surfaces at the site have sent runoff downstream without treatment, destabilizing the underground creek and carrying pollutants to the river.

“The Ford site is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply sustainable practices to a very large piece of land and take a leading role in ensuring the environmental health of the future development for many generations.” – Bob Fossum, Monitoring and Research Division Manager for CRWD

The Solution

Planning and Sustainable Stormwater Management Study

Together with the City of Saint Paul, CRWD completed a Sustainable Stormwater Management Study to explore potential outcomes for stormwater infrastructure on the Ford site. The study lays the groundwork for future stormwater management, with one of the goals being to better protect Hidden Falls Creek. This innovative approach draws from the City’s adopted Great River Passage plan, which outlines transformation of the Ford site by featuring a stormwater-based amenity that reconnects the community to parks and the Mississippi River.

The study illustrates a way to re-create the historic origin of Hidden Falls Creek while also collecting and filtering stormwater runoff for the entire site. This comprehensive approach eliminates the need for individual underground treatment systems scattered across the site. This method – called shared, stacked green infrastructure – will double the benefit-to-cost ratio and reduce the overall cost of managing stormwater on the Ford site by as much as 40 percent per acre treated, ultimately allowing for the land to be developed with greater efficiency and flexibility.

Read the Sustainable Stormwater Management Study for the Ford Site

Regional Stormwater Treatment

As the Sustainable Stormwater Management Study illustrated, the redevelopment will benefit from a shared regional stormwater approach. Several large clean water practices both at the surface and underground will capture and filter stormwater runoff from the 122-acre site to reuse in the central water feature and Hidden Falls Creek.

Hidden underground, a series of five large concrete chambers will store stormwater runoff. The water will then pass through filters before feeding the central water feature. The storage capacity will provide consistent water flow in the central water feature and reduce erosion downstream.

In addition to the underground storage and filtration practices there are several large rain gardens that will collect and filter stormwater runoff for the central water feature. Rain garden plants will provide beauty and wildlife habitat while helping clean water as it passes through the soil.

Combined, the stormwater systems will capture and clean 64 million gallons annually. This will prevent an estimated 55,200 pounds of total suspended solids and 145 pounds of phosphorus from entering the Mississippi River each year. Prior to redevelopment, polluted stormwater from this site would travel to the river without any treatment. This project reduces total suspended solids by 94% and total phosphorus by 75%, a big improvement for water quality. By cleaning and reusing stormwater in the central water feature, rain becomes a resource instead of a waste product.

Central Water Feature and Hidden Falls Creek

The central water feature will be an open water channel in the middle of the site that will receive filtered stormwater.  It will be surrounded by green space and provide multiple types of recreation opportunities.  Water from the Central Water Feature will flow south to a reimagined Hidden Falls Creek, buried underground over a century ago when the land was first developed. Hidden Falls Creek will have a steady, continuous flow of filtered stormwater from clean water practices on site.  It will offer recreational opportunities for visitors and provide wildlife habitat. The creek will flow underneath Mississippi River Boulevard into Hidden Falls and then the Mississippi River.

Hidden Falls Creek Connection at Mississippi River Boulevard

The reimagined Hidden Falls Creek will flow to Hidden Falls Regional Park through a tunnel underneath Mississippi River Boulevard. The 90-foot tunnel will connect the park with the Highland Bridge redevelopment. Adjacent to the creek, a paved pedestrian and bike path will end at a terrace overlooking Hidden Falls. CRWD will contribute grant funds for this portion of the project in addition to providing funds for the stormwater management.

Project Updates and Expected Results

The City of Saint Paul, master developer Ryan Companies, and partners like CRWD took the time to carefully plan energy, waste, transportation, landscape, and water needs for the new community. With plans in place the focus is now on the stormwater system, central water feature, Hidden Falls Creek, and tunnel construction.

CRWD will continue to work with city officials and Ryan Companies to protect the Mississippi River by carrying out the stormwater management plan. Site work and infrastructure construction began in Spring 2020 and the first phase will extend into 2021. City parks and public open spaces, including the water features and most stormwater management will begin cleaning stormwater and be available for public use in summer 2022.

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