Every politician leaves office wanting to leave behind a legacy.
It’s a natural extension of the human inclination to be remembered before we leave this Earth.
In big ways and small every person wants to be known for something.
The Saint Paul Ford Plant is one of those legacy projects that has nearly every City and County elected official salivating.
After all, it’s not every day 140 acres of land suddenly opens up in an urban area.
It’s a piece of land so tempting that it has City planners envisioning a project so dense in population that it makes New York City neighborhoods seem like pleasant acres of farmland.
If one can envision up to 10,000 people living, working and visiting in 121 acres of land one can envision what is euphemistically called the “Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan.”
It is a document that tries its best to convince us that what we fear is what we should embrace.
Or, as St. Paul Mayoral candidate Melvin Carter exhorts us to do after reading the document that destroys neighborhoods — “Be Brave.”
Its advocates assure us that this is the future. They tell us this is a perfect urban experiment for the rest of America.
Want to stop pollution? They tell us that 10,000 people living, working and visiting on 121 acres of land is the solution.
Want to expand the tax base? They tell us that 10,000 people living, working and visiting 10-story apartment buildings, retail stores arranged like min-strip malls and playing on 20 acres of green space is the answer.
Want to stop traffic congestion? Design a development where nobody drives cars and everybody rides bikes, walks or takes the bus to work and everywhere else.
For them, and the City planners and politicians advocating this vision, it is Utopia.
For tens of thousands of others who will see their neighborhoods destroyed it is Dystopia.
People are entitled to their opinion.
And, I have an opinion.
One of those opinions is that I believe it is time for the current Mayor, Chris Coleman, to call for a suspension of any further public hearings, Council votes, staff work or use of taxpayer funds on this project until after the election of a new Mayor.
I call it a suspension.
Others, like Saint Paul Mayoral Candidate Tom Goldstein, calls it a moratorium.
Since he used that word first I decided to use the word suspend.
This includes suspending the contracts of any company or individual under contract by the City or the County who have been retained to help market and promote the use of the Ford Plant site.
It means directing all City planning staff to end any of the work they are currently doing on this project.
I think every candidate for Mayor – including those who are the biggest advocates of the “Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan.” – should ask the Mayor to refrain from any further effort on this project.
Or, as Saint Paul Mayoral Candidate Tom Goldstein has proposed – a moratorium on any further work on the Ford Plant project.
Saint Paul’s 3rd Ward City Councilmember – Chris Tolbert – who has become the leading advocate for the “Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan.” should at least give the perception he is representing the interests of his constituents and call on the Mayor to suspend all work on this project until after the Saint Paul Mayoral election.
My opinion isn’t because of any issue I have with Mayor Chris Coleman. I believe he has a done a fine job as Mayor of St. Paul.
My opinion is based solely on my belief that this project requires a new approach.
A new process. A new vision. A new plan.
A new Mayor.
Rushing to get a vote on the “Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan.” before a new Mayor is elected is putting politics before people.
It shouldn’t even a big deal to agree to this opinion.
After all, Saint Paul doesn’t own the site.
It will have little control over who Ford does or doesn’t decide to sell the site to in the future.
So, what’s the hurry to pass a “Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan.” on a piece of property the City doesn’t own?
I have an opinion. But, that opinion isn’t important.
What is important – to me – is that we have a Mayor’s race this November and we will have a new Mayor.
With a new Mayor, we should have a new process. A new vision. A new plan.
An entirely new, transparent and open engagement with the people of the City of St. Paul – those who will be most physically impacted by future development – and those throughout the City who need to understand how this project figures into their future.
If this site is, as City Councilmember Chris Tolbert continues to parrot a “Once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity” for the city, then we should treat it as such.
The current Mayor will no longer be Mayor by the time Ford gets around to actually selling this land.
The next Mayor may or may not be Mayor by the time Ford gets around to actually selling this land.
The future Mayor, not the current Mayor, is the right Mayor to lead this project forward for the City of St. Paul.