There has been plenty of movement on the 122-acre site of the former Ford Twin Cities assembly plant over the last year. However, one piece of the Highland Bridge development remains glaringly on pause: 2,000 units of market-rate rental housing. This makes up more than 50% of the project’s original 3,800 housing units planned—which includes row homes, apartments, senior living, and custom home lots.
Officials with master developer Ryan Cos. say the pause is due to an inability to find financing after St. Paul voters passed a 3% cap rent-control policy in 2021, long after the city had adopted its original Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan in 2017.
While the statute has been amended by the City Council with a 20-year exemption for new construction, Maureen Michalski, Ryan Cos.’ executive overseeing with the site, says it hasn’t been sufficient to attract lenders. She says Ryan would like the rent-control policy to be fully repealed. However, “short of a full repeal, we have advocated for a 30-year new construction exemption, because financing for multifamily is typically done on 30-year terms.”
The majority of the apartments on pause are to be built by Ryan Cos.’ partner, Seattle-based Weidner Apartment Homes. All of the Weidner properties but The Collections—230 market-rate units above the Lunds & Byerlys, and the first housing to open in the development in late 2022—are still on hold.
Not all of Highland Bridge’s housing development is paused, though. Michalski says it all comes down to the type of financing needed. For example, Marvella, a senior housing development by nonprofit Presbyterian Homes, pulls from different funding sources because it’s a nonprofit, mission-based organization. “So they were able to advance a second phase of their Marvella project, but all the other market-rate, traditionally financed rental housing is on hold.”
Other parts of the massive development have begun to see life. Beyond Lunds & Byerlys, parks have been completed, and medical office building Highland Bridge Medical is nearly fully occupied.