St. Paul’s Highland Bridge project — what’s moving forward, what’s on hold – Press

Days after St. Paul voters approved a new ballot initiative that caps residential rent increases at 3 percent annually, the Ryan Cos. informed the city the development firm would put construction of multiple Highland Bridge buildings on hold.

The four projects are multi-family housing buildings where investors have balked at the prospect of moving forward under a rent control mandate, according to the developer.

“We were in for permit review, and we paused that,” Maureen Michalski, vice president of real estate development with the Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos., said in an interview Monday. “It’s in response to specific conversations with capital providers, and conversations with our partners. We have partners that are owners and investors in the buildings. There are other places in the metro that people can invest their money. Any kind of development, people have options.”


Cst 54792 Highland development
Construction continues at the Highland Bridge site in St. Paul, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

That’s not to say the 133-acre former Ford Motor Co. manufacturing campus won’t be transformed into a residential hub in Highland Park. Other projects at Highland Bridge are still under construction or being planned, from a new Lunds & Byerlys grocery store to senior housing and a medical office building.

And given housing demand, and the appeal of developing a corner of the city overlooking the Mississippi River, some critics have questioned whether investors won’t come back to the table in the months ahead.

Michalski declined to identify the specific investors who have pulled out, but she emphasized there’s a ripple effect.

Financing for the Highland Bridge development is structured in such a way that market-rate units subsidize affordable housing on the same streets, using on-site property taxes. Overall, 20 percent of the site’s 3,800 housing units are expected to be affordable.

“We think that’s pretty compelling for people,” she said. “If you lose the market-rate units, you lose the affordable units. That’s the financial mechanism.”

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has promised to work with the City Council on a possible ordinance amendment that would exempt new construction from the “rent stabilization” mandate.

Members of the council, however, have expressed concern that imposing fundamental changes to a voter-approved law would override the will of the voters and open the city to litigation. Under the city charter, however, the ordinance could be repealed entirely after a year and then replaced with a new ordinance.

Council Member Chris Tolbert, who represents Highland Park, said the city is working on clarifying aspects of rent control, which goes into effect in May, including how to seek exemptions. That might provide more reassurance to investors.

“The (Highland Bridge) projects that are already in the ground are still moving forward,” Tolbert said. “One of the things we have an obligation to do — and I think we’re working on it — is to bring some certainty. I think most developers are hitting pause to figure out the lay of the land. Based on the conversations I’ve had, I think the financing concerns are legitimate.”

Here’s a rundown on where projects stand.


The Collections, Phase 2: Just south of Bohland Avenue at Cretin Avenue, Weidner Apartment Homes planned the second building in the series known as “The Collections,” a 180-unit apartment building next to Highland Bridge’s central water feature. Michalski said the project had been moving through the city’s permit review process for construction to begin in December. It’s now on hold.

Condos and apartments: Across Cretin Avenue from the future Lunds & Byerlys, the Ryan Cos. planned three residential buildings that would have likely gotten under construction next spring. They include two condominium buildings as well as a multi-family apartment complex on a northern block along Ford Parkway. All three are on hold. The owner-occupied condos are affected because they are physically connected to the renter-occupied apartments.


The Collections, Phase I: On Cretin Avenue, the Lunds & Byerlys will sit within a mixed-use development spanning 230 apartments and 56,000 square feet of retail. The Weidner Apartment Homes’ “Collections” project will open next summer.

Presbyterian Homes Marvella senior housing: Construction is underway on 300 units of senior housing. Anticipated completion in spring 2023.

Plaza and water feature: Construction of the Civic Plaza and a central water feature is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The Civic Plaza will be an outdoor gathering area that will be used for small events. The central water feature and surrounding pathways will encompass more than 5 acres.

Parks: Two of four planned parks will be completed by year’s end. Gateway Park will span 3.65 acres and include a drinking fountain, skate trail, seating, walking paths, game tables and other amenities. Unci Makha Park will span 6.39 acres and include volleyball courts, a dog park, a nature play area, walking paths, hammocking area, outdoor fitness equipment, park shelter and more.

Mississippi River Boulevard Crossing: Construction of the first phase of the Mississippi River Boulevard Crossing — a future tunnel connection from Highland Bridge to Hidden Falls Regional Park — is complete. The boulevard has reopened, but work under the boulevard will continue into spring.


Medical office: A groundbreaking takes place in December for a future two-story, 60,000-square-foot medical office building that will feature M Health Fairview.

Pulte model rowhomes: A 15-block rowhome district will span 325 rowhomes at full buildout. Models will open in January. The first move-ins are anticipated to begin next summer, with Pulte handling sales itself. Six rowhomes will be designated affordable housing through a partnership between Ryan and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Pulte recently released a 12-minute video explaining their development and sales process, which will begin with 22 units.

Custom homes: Since Feb. 8, the brokerage team of Coldwell Banker Realty-Crocus Hill has been handling the sale of custom home lots along Mississippi River Boulevard. At least 20 of 34 lots have been put up for sale. Closings are expected to begin Dec. 1 and 2. “They’ll range probably from $1.5 million to $3 million,” Realtor Jim Seabold said Monday.

Emma Norton Residence/Restoring Waters: Project for Pride in Living, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit provider of affordable housing, plans a five-story congregate living community at 801 Mount Curve Blvd. that will serve as the organizational headquarters for the Emma Norton Services, which provide social services to women in need. The building will span 60 “supportive housing” units attached to 6,700 square feet of administrative offices and social services.

Project for Pride in Living’s Nellie Francis Court: This would be a five-story multi-family building spanning 75 residential units geared to low-to-moderate income workers at 2285 Hillcrest Ave.

CommonBond Communities: By next summer, construction is expected to begin on 60 units of housing for low-income seniors.