Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

The Best Idea Ever for the Ford Plant – Ford Park

Dateline: 8:01 am January 29, 2013 Filed under:

Could the main facade of the Ford Plant be preserved as part of a public park/promenade?

Shown in the photograph above is a section of the former Ford Plant in St. Paul that seems to offer a wonderful opportunity for preservation and placemaking. Is it possible to remove the sections of windows and keep the columns so it would look and function something like this portion of Bethesda Terrace, shown below?

As you can see below, while the end of this facade faces the Mississippi River, its length is perhaps 300 feet long. Having a 300-foot long promenade with open access like the image of Bethesda Terrace would make for a really interesting and wonderful place to stroll.

I propose opening up the window wells on the north and west-facing facades and making them accessible at ground level. Preserve/strengthen the roof for a covered but open-air promenade. I suppose the south and east-facing side would need to be created from scratch to match that of the old north and west facades. I’m assuming a level concrete floor inside could be largely left in place, if that is indeed what exists.

The park promenade could be lined by walking/bicycle paths on and other park facilities on its exterior as well. And it ends close to the Mississippi River and boulevard, which makes a lot of sense in terms of creating a park. The promenade could be used for events like farmers markets, concerts, weddings and reunions. And it need not be entirely open air, either, and could be partially enclosed for use as a restaurant or other semi-public use. Overall, though, the renovated structure would be the focal point for a new city park, Ford Park.

A review of the City of St. Paul’s Ford Plant page reveals no specific plan for preserving this portion of the building. However, Scenario 5 in the “Phase I Planning Document” hints at the possibility that it could indeed be preserved, presumably for its architectural interest, although a specific use is not given. I have provided a specific use.

I’ll give you a million reasons why this is a good idea. The first one is preserving a portion of the Ford Plant that has such an important role in the history of the city of St. Paul and the Twin Cities. This section of the building’s facade is really quite attractive, see?

You won’t see this type of thing built again, so once it’s gone….In a way, it would be criminal to tear it down. Creating a park promenade provides an opportunity to preserve some beauty in what is otherwise a challenging building to reuse.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was on the consulting team with Colliers International in 2007 that advised the City of St. Paul and the planning team on the creation of the above-rederenced five scenarios. At this time I have nothing but personal interest in my community (I live just across the river in Minneapolis).

Besides preserving a piece of our past that we preserve too little of, doing it as part of a park not only allows the general public to appreciate the past but use it in the future. How cool would it be to host an event in the shell of the former Ford Plant?

Also, and perhaps most importantly, preserving this piece of the past as the centerpiece of a new park may increase the value of development parcels around it. As we know from the Colliers market study in 2007, and this is still true today, the land is very valuable as potential new development for the city. Leveraging the value creation of a wonderful park space by selling parcels around it for development could help pay for its renovation – in other words, I think this idea if done well could add value to the redevelopment and frame some nice residential buildings around it.

Just imagine a wonderful stroll from the wonderful businesses in Highland, along Ford Park Promenade and down to the Mississippi River. If it is at all physically possible, the promenade should be actively pursued…now, before it’s gone.


  1. I’m from Buffalo and don’t know the particulars, but I’m very surprised the demolition of the plant is being considered at all. These classic flex sheds are highly adaptable, evoke the greatness of America’s early industrial might, and can’t be replaced. Saving the facade would be one win, but given how little of the overall land area of the plant site it occupies, as an outsider I can’t see why the building would be removed.

    Comment by Chris Hawley — February 1, 2013 @ 11:41 am

  2. Great idea. I truly hope this area is done as best as humanly possible, and your promenade would go a long way toward it.

    It’s a shame buildings like this aren’t built anymore. Why is that?

    Comment by Alex — February 1, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  3. Why is Minnesota obsessed with demolition? I don’t understand why we haven’t looked into using the building as is. The old Ford Plant building is long enough to house a race track plus some and is about to be demolished. This project could save the City of St. Paul millions of dollars in demolition and redevelopment costs. An unnoticed benifit would be tons of debris kept out of landfills. This building is huge, imagine the possibilities…

    The main building is long enough that it could be turned into the world’s only indoor drag strip for national and local events to get kids racing off the streets and in a safe environment. On top of that is could house a one location auto shop class for all St. Paul high schools. The shop would have basic instructions and an advanced certification after school program. It would house a community garage where people could work on their vehicles and a indoor walking/biking path. Classes could be given at the community garage to help people who can not afford an education become certified in auto mechanics.

    The paint building could be turned into the world’s largest indoor mountain bike park. So, mountain bikers would have a place to ride when it rains and snows. Currently trails are closed up to a week after it rains and are unable to open until May in the spring. Anyone want to invest?

    Here are a few more ideas. The location could be used to house every homeless person in Minnesota.

    The paint building could be turned into a recreation center with an indoor running track.

    The oldest part of the main building could be turning into a museum that would include a tunnel tour.

    What about an indoor skate park or an indoor walking/cycling trail that could go all the way around the main building.

    What about marketing it to another manufacturer. It seems every year a foreign automaker opens a new factory in America.

    But I guess doing any of these wouldn’t be the American way. Right not it seems all of the ideas a being left of to the Highland area residents who want to create a playground for themselves and for people who want to be just like them. Highland is a great place, but we have the opportunity utilize these huge building to do something different, something world class, something that could help bring more jobs and revenue to the Twin Cites then houses.

    Comment by Sam — March 1, 2013 @ 8:01 am

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