The Big Story Blog

New life for old car plants?

Posted at 12:05 PM on November 10, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Economic Development, Economy

amcplant.jpgIt was a polluted former car plant. But it had some lovely water views and potential. The people of Kenosha, Wis., saw it.

Today, the former American Motors Corp. plant is now Harborpark a beautiful combination of housing, commerce and green space.

kenosha_harbor_6_xlarge.jpg

Getting there meant walking a long road that began in 1994 when the city took over the land.

St. Paul is headed for similar circumstances after Dec. 16, when the last truck rolls off the assembly line at the Ford plant. There will be a big, scenic piece of land on the Mississippi River bluff that will take a lot of cleanup and a lot of thought about what's the best use going forward.

Kenosha represents one of the better outcomes on the question of what happens to dead car plants. Sitting by Lake Michigan, it had a natural beauty that begged for a non-industrial use and the redevelopment took place in an era of relative prosperity.

In this economy, St. Paul's reality may be closer to Hazelwood, Mo. MPR News reporter Matt Sepic writes:

A factory that made Ford Explorers in Hazelwood, Mo., closed in 2006. It was sold and torn down, but five years later the site near St. Louis remains mostly empty. Hazelwood economic development director David Cox said the bad economy has delayed plans for an industrial park.

"It's a very slow process. And with the national economy and the regional competition that already exists, it'll probably be a little while," he said. "So I'd recommend being patient for any development that size."

A Wikipedia page dedicated to closed auto plants, shows many of them were either demolished or continued on in some industrial use.

Whether St. Paul can transform the Ford site the way Kenosha remade its AMC plant remains to be seen. But the potential benefits are huge. Besides the green space, there's housing, a museum, cafes and a farmer's market.

The Wisconsin DNR's Remediation and Redevelopment Program notes: "Property values at the site increased $50 million from 1989-2003, nearby property values increased by more than $13 million, 22 jobs were created, and the improved harbor redevelopment helped increase property taxes by nearly $900,000 in 2003."


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.