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Arden Hills sets sights on TCAAP for possible city hall shift
Is the Arden Hills City Hall big enough?
That’s one of several questions the Arden Hills City Council wants answered in regards to the long-awaited redevelopment of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site.
Council members have given city staff the green light to begin researching whether or not the current city hall would — or could — continue to function as a practical facility for the suburb once the development, also known as Rice Creek Commons, is completed.
The new development, roughly the size of downtown St. Paul, will essentially grow the city by up to 4,000 residents, about 1,400 housing units and dozens of new business spaces, likely requiring the city to hire additional personnel — and perhaps create more space for them.
The price tag
The sale of the 427-acre property located between Interstate 35W and Lexington Avenue in Arden Hills from Ramsey County to the developer, Alatus LLC, is still being negotiated, but according to Arden Hills city administrator Bill Joynes, Alatus has already offered the city the option to purchase a pre-planned 1.6-acre parcel of land in the site’s civic zone for $1.
However, Joynes explained that the city’s total burden wouldn’t simply be pocket change, as the city would need to undertake the cost of the planning, design and construction of any future structure on that space, as well as sort out what to do with the current facility, which Joynes said is about 15 years old.
Park or public building
The council approved the creation of a “Civic Site Task Force” at its Feb. 13 meeting, as well as the issuing of a request for proposals for architectural firms that can help assist in the city’s research on this matter.
The 12-person task force will consist of various members of the city’s boards and commissions, and, alongside an outside firm, will look at the possibility of building and operating a future city hall on the redeveloped TCAAP property.
According to Joynes, other possibilities will also be researched, including using the 1.6-acre space for other purposes such as a public park, community center or a recreational gymnasium, for example.
“We have the opportunity to decide what goes there,” Joynes said. “We just need to figure out what people want and what makes the most sense down there in terms of cost and square footage.”
Before any decisions are made, Joynes noted, a number of things will need to be assessed, including the estimated lifespan of the current city hall building, which is currently home to about 20 staff members not including public works personnel, and the maintenance cost required to sustain it along whatever that projected timeline might be.
“We’re also trying to price out what the current property is worth here, in relation to trying to fund a new facility on the development,” Joynes said.
A conceptual design, he added, would be drawn up for a new city hall, and, along with that, a cost estimation and the gathering of community input and feedback.
At the last council meeting, Joynes said a list of architects had already been compiled for consideration. These architects have experience in municipal projects, he said, and would be among those who receive the city’s RFP to work on these types of evaluations.
Sooner than later
“There are obviously pros and cons to it,” Joynes said of relocating city hall onto Rice Creek Commons. “There’s an economics to it, and the city council is going to have to make the decision.
“It would be great to have something on the development that brings the city’s identity to it, but that could come in a number of different forms. Does it make sense to move city hall? That’s the question we need to answered.”
But Joynes said there are incentives to making a decision sooner than later.
He noted that if the city makes its decision within the next two years — with designs prepared and ready to go — Alatus has agreed to pitch in on some of the construction costs.
“The deal the developer has given the city is that if we make a decision within the next two years, they will build underground parking for us, and they’ll put in all of the infrastructure, like sewer and water and those necessities, all for a dollar,” Joynes explained.
He noted that if the city takes longer to decide, that deal changes, and the cost would turn to a sliding scale as to how much the city would need to pay for such a project.
“It’s an agreement that’s designed to encourage us to come with construction-ready plans,” Joynes said. “So if the city is going to do it, it makes more sense for the city to do it sooner than later.”
At its height, TCAAP employed 26,000 people and supported the war effort from when it opened in 1941 through the end of World War II in 1945, manufacturing small arms ammunition.
The site was operating again during the Korean and Vietnam wars, and then shut down completely in 2005 and the land was purchased by Ramsey County in 2012 for $28 million.
Pollution issues related to the site included contaminated groundwater as well as on-site soil contamination due to disposal of industrial waste.