For the hundreds of autoworkers who will be displaced when Ford Motor Co. shutters its Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul on Dec. 19, there will be tearful farewells and fond memories of a disappearing industrial era in Minnesota. After 86 years of operation in the Highland Park neighborhood, Ford is closing one of our area’s last great manufacturing facilities for good.
Future generations may well wonder about the derivation of iconic place names such as Ford Parkway, the Ford Bridge and the Ford Lock and Dam. That’s because within months the 160-acre site will be cleared of nearly all of its 2.1 million square feet of factory buildings in anticipation of reuses that few can imagine today.
And despite a sluggish economy and a dormant real estate market, there’s little doubt that the property will be redeveloped to 21st century standards. It is considered among the most attractive urban “brownfield” opportunities in the entire nation, a scenic Mississippi River blufftop location with excellent road, rail and airport access.
The well-trained Ford workforce could be another enticement, although the prospects for large-scale industrial redevelopment on the 20th century model are on the low end between slim and none. That became clear when offers of nearly half a billion dollars in tax breaks couldn’t induce Ford or anyone else to retool the aging plant for decades more of heavy manufacturing.
What seems likely is that the site, after environmental cleanup and sale by Ford, will be reborn with a combination of residential, commercial, office and perhaps light industrial uses. Government will have an important role in adding needed infrastructure and guarding against development that would be incompatible with the quiet surrounding neighborhood.
What the public sector need not do is hand out millions in obsolete 20th century subsidies and tax giveaways to spur rebuilding of an historic place brimming with assets well suited to competing in the 21st century economy. It will stand that test very well on its own.
Photo credit: Michael Hicks, creative commons