The Ford Plant Task Force held its first meeting last Monday and, as might be expected, the bulk of the proceedings was taken up with introductions and opening remarks from a number of elected officials – Third Ward City Council Member Pat Harris, Sen. Dick Cohen, Rep. Michael Paymar, Mayor Chris Coleman – and overviews from the staff of the Planning Commission, and EWAD, the consultants hired by the city to work on redevelopment plans.
The task force’s planning for the site will take place in two phases. The first phase, which will consume the next five or six months, will result in up to five alternative development scenarios; the second phase, which ends in the fall of 2008 will undertake an analysis of the scenarios and make a recommendation of a preferred re-development plan to the city and the Ford Motor Company.
Though pro forma, the first Task Force meeting still held a few moments of drama that foreshadow the epic struggle that is likely to take place over the exact disposition of this prime 125 acres of land situated on the western edge of Highland Village.
Even before the gavel sounded convening the gathering, a minor tempest had broken out over complaints by the Highland Business Association and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce that they were not represented on the task force. In fact, of course, they are: most task force members have more than one affiliation, not all of them published in the list put out by the city. Needless to say, local business interests have a prominent seat at this table.
Meanwhile, during his remarks Dick Cohen mentioned activity taking place at the Capitol that would, in his words, “force Ford’s hand a little.” This was an oblique reference to efforts backed by the UAW to get the state to mandate a three-to-five year moratorium on the sale of the land – the UAW is pushing for the re-use of much of the land as home for a green manufacturing plant, using green power from the Ford hydro plant just below the site on the Mississippi, and engaged in production of, say, wind turbines or hybrid busses. Ford, on the other hand, is planning to close a deal within the next two years, at most. How far this will go is anybody’s guess; at the very least, the prospect of some kind of legislative intervention might serve as a counterweight to Ford’s considerable negotiating clout.
Two other potential bones of contention: in response to a question from a task force member, the Ford representative at the meeting – Jay Garner of Ford Land (no relation, I presume, of the original appointee dispatched by GW Bush to run post-invasion Iraq) – revealed that the Ford Motor Company does not consider itself obliged to go along with any plan the Task Force and the consultants come up with over the next 18 months – it will consent to a plan, he explained, only if it makes “economic sense” for the company, meaning, I imagine, if it maximizes the return for the automaker which is currently shedding money at an unsustainable pace and hence motivated to get the best price possible, whatever the future use of the site. The second bombshell was one I discovered during private conversations after the meeting adjourned, to wit: Ford is moving to accelerate the sale of its hydro plant – one person I spoke with claimed that they’d like to close a deal by this spring. Depending on the terms of that sale, optimism about transforming the site into a totally green mixed use development might be a moot point long before the task force is finished with the first phase of its work.
— Richard Broderick, co-founder of the Twin Cities Daily Planet and vice president of the Macalester Groveland Community Council, is a member of the Ford Plant Task Force. All opinions and observations offered in this blog represent his views and not those of the Task Force.