Who lost Amazon in St. Paul? The Ford Zoning Plan takes thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue off the table.


News that Amazon considers Minnesota to be a significant candidate for locating a major corporate headquarters has our Governor declaring that he is making it a top priority to do what he can to make that happen.

Unfortunately, Mayor Chris Coleman and the Saint Paul City Council have chosen a different priority.

Instead of using the power of zoning to their advantage when it comes to the Ford site they have handed over that power to Ford Motor Company.

Instead of having options on the table to take advantage of opportunities like Amazon they have backed themselves into a corner in which they have only themselves to blame.

The City claims Ford Motor Company is driving their decision to implement a zoning plan that is a looming disaster for tens of thousands of residents.

In using this as cover for their actions, the Coleman Administration and City Councilmember Chris Tolbert insist they must vote on September 27th to approve a plan that will eliminate the City’s opportunity to land Amazon.

Donald Trump wrote a book called “The Art of the Deal.”

Mayor Coleman and Councilmember Tolbert must have misunderstood the title in developing their strategy to give away the City’s leverage with Ford.

Their effort is more like something one might read from a book with the title “The Art of the Steal.” – and the folks at Ford Motor Company must be pretty happy that the City has read it from cover to cover.

But the Mayor and the Saint Paul City Council can bring themselves back from the brink of giving away the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is Amazon.

They have three options. 

Option One:

Stick with their September 27th vote and pursue the Mayor’s vision of a zoning plan on the site of the former Ford Plant and crater a neighborhood with 10,000 more people – 10 story buildings – increase vehicle traffic by 30,000 additional trips a day.

Option Two:

Put the current vote on hold and single-mindedly pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring Amazon’s 2nd North American headquarter to St. Paul and create lifetime jobs and opportunity for thousands of Minnesotans near and far?

Option Three:

Claim that Saint Paul doesn’t have a realistic chance at Amazon and simply do nothing and hope that nobody notices that they actually did…nothing.

Soon the Mayor and the City Council will have to admit: You don’t get to chase Amazon and its bounty of jobs, tax base and tax revenue AND pass the zoning plan that the Mayor and the City Council have made clear they intend to pass on September 27th.

You must pick one or the other.

And, given the Mayor’s campaign for Governor, things got interesting today when the Star Tribune reported that one of the Mayor’s opponents for DFL endorsement was already suggesting the Ford site as a great location for Amazon.

“State Rep. Paul Thissen, a DFLer who is running for governor, suggested the former Ford plant property in St. Paul, which sprawls 122 acres, or the 427-acre Arden Hills armory site as possibilities.”

Where was the Mayor’s voice?

I’m not sure.

But it wasn’t standing front and center telling Amazon that he was going to fight like Hell for those jobs for the City of St. Paul.

By insisting on an artificial deadline to pass the Ford site zoning plan on September 27th the Mayor and the Saint Paul City Council have effectively taken St. Paul out of the running for the opportunity of a lifetime with Amazon.

Oh, I know Saint Paul isn’t a lock for Amazon and its glorious cache of jobs.

But, I also know that right now Saint Paul is definitely not in the running given its willingness to give away its leverage at the St. Paul Ford Plant site.

One has to wonder out loud.

Does Ford think they may get more money for their land from Amazon than they will from, say a Saint Paul Building Trades brokered REIT with a private developer?

If they do, I bet that whatever handshake – or whatever form the agreement took when the Mayor and Councilmember Tolbert agreed to zone the Ford site to Ford Motor Company’s liking – is not going to hold up very long.

Decades ago political pundits and others debated loudly about who failed to stop China from falling to the Communists.

Recriminations were everywhere as folks pointed fingers at one another for not doing enough to stop it from happening.

The question was asked, “Who lost China?”

Years from now, while the Mayor and his allies on the City Council who advocated for the current Ford site zoning plan attempt to deflect blame onto one another for its failings, we will be left with many questions about what could have been.

Instead of a failed mass density footprint that could not withstand the test of time we could have had a global corporate headquarters, along with housing and other mixed uses, on the Saint Paul Ford Plant site.

Years from now the question will be asked, “Who lost Amazon?”

We already know the answer today.

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