What happened to derail Rice Creek Commons?


Byline: William Morris

It's a breakdown in trust -- not just disagreements over specific issues -- that has derailed work on the massive Rice Creek Commons redevelopment in Arden Hills, current and former government officials say.

Ramsey County purchased the 427-acre site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in 2013. The county has spent $41 million to date cleaning up the Superfund site for redevelopment, and in 2016 a joint city-county development authority selected Minneapolis-based Alatus LLC as master developer to build housing, offices and public uses in the northeast quadrant of Interstate 35W and Highway 96.

That effort is now on hold. In a Nov. 6 letter to Arden Hills City Administrator Dave Perrault, County Administrator Ryan O'Connor said negotiations on a master plan have reached an impasse, and the county is redirecting staff members and resources to other projects.

In a recent interview, O'Connor said the county is not satisfied by Arden Hills'proposed investment, which he said came to less than $6 million but was later bumped up to $8 million. The county also ispushing the northern suburb to allow more housing density, and in particular more affordable housing, for theproject, he said.

But the broader issue is a fundamental disagreement about how "to build an inclusive community in which all types of people are able to live, work and recreate,"as O'Connorwrote in the letter.

"You can get into the details and lose the forest for the trees,"he said in the interview with Finance & Commerce."We believe this is a good time to pause and reflect, and say what is important for us. We just need to be honest with each other as we go."

Arden Hills leaders agree honesty is needed, but say it's the county that has come up short in that regard. In an interview, Mayor David Grantbristledat the insinuation in O'Connor'sletter thatthe city has treated the project as an "inconvenience rather than a benefit" and has been difficult to work with. On the contrary, he said, it is the county that has abruptly endedcooperationwithout any signal that something was amiss.

"Who's the organization that's hard to work with," he asked.

More broadly, the city accuses the county of demanding last-minute changes to the long-planned redevelopment. An unsigned statement issued in response to O'Connor's letter noted the partners had agreed in 2016 on housing benchmarks for the site (1,460 housing units, with 10 percent reserved for residents making...

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