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Sep 9, 2013

Spotlight: St. Paul Port Authority Celebrates Its 80th Birthday and Its Brownfields Revitalization Success

Category: General
Posted by: rita

From the Great Depression through the Great Recession, the Saint Paul Port Authority has been a strong and stable partner in Saint Paul’s and the East Metro’s economic growth. In 2012, the Port Authority celebrated its 80th birthday: It was launched as a Minnesota Legislative initiative in 1929 and began managing river-shipping activities in Saint Paul three years later. Today’s Port Authority is a multifaceted development organization that works to clean up polluted and/or underutilized industrial land while investing in imaginative ways to attract — and retain — businesses that will nurture competitively paying jobs. 

During the past 45 years of the St. Paul Port Authority’s over 80 year history, brownfields cleanup and redevelopment has become a key strategy in fulfilling its mission.  In fact, in 2001 the Port Authority had been so involved in cleanup and redevelopment that Lorrie Louder, its Director of Business and Intergovernmental Affairs, came to Washington to testify before Congress during discussions leading up to passage of the landmark brownfields legislation later that year.  According to Louder, “For the last 20 years, harnessing federal, state, local, and private funding for brownfields assessment, cleanup and redevelopment has created countless jobs and been an essential part of St. Paul’s economy.”   

The Port Authority's mission is to expand Saint Paul’s job and tax base through environmentally friendly and sustainable development.  Today, it still manages the harbor and also churns out redeveloped land for expanding businesses inland. To date, 526 companies in 21 business centers and river terminals employ more than 21,000 people in Saint Paul.


For many years, the Port Authority has been a national leader in brownfields policy and funding, because it demonstrates the success that can come from leveraging federal, state, local, and, ultimately, private sector business investment in revitalization and new development. In June 2012 the Port Authority was honored to host a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brownfield cleanup grant announcement at its Chatsworth Business Center in Saint Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. The Port Authority received $1.6 million of the $1.8 million the EPA allocated to Saint Paul, but equally important to the Port Authority was EPA’s confidence in its ability to use the grant funds to create jobs.  Chatsworth was the first project in the country to use EPA stimulus money to redevelop a closed bowling alley into the home of two Internet product-distribution businesses — River of Goods and Terrybear Urns and Memorials.

 EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman noted at the grant ceremony:

“I’d argue that it’s some of the most productive use of our dollars that you can imagine. We put in a modest amount of money, and we leverage private investment of two or three times that amount.” In November, the statewide Minnesota Brownfields organization named the Chatsworth project a ReScape winner in the Economic Impact category.

 The St. Paul Port Authority’s effectiveness in brownfields revitalization has been a part of, or led to, a host of recent achievements (described below) in Saint Paul Harbor business growth, inland new development, and finance tools.

 HARBOR MANAGEMENT – Recent Successes

 Just downriver from where the Port Authority started in 1932 — a new river-shipping business is soon to call the Southport River Terminal home. Form-A-Feed, a third-generation family-owned company will operate a feed and fertilizer handling and mixing center on leased space along the first new stretch of dock wall built in more than 50 years.  The company estimates that 40,000 to 50,000 tons of commodities will be shipped into the new terminal operation in the first year. As Form-A-Feed settles into its new home, the Port Authority’s Harbor Operator, Upper River Services, will build its new headquarters at Barge Terminal 2, located upriver and across from Saint Paul’s downtown.

South of Southport, at the Red Rock Barge Terminal, Gerdau Ameristeel is making a $50 million investment in a new caster at its steel-recycling mill. The company also is expected to build a recycling facility as a feeder to the main plant on Port land in Southport. Both the new caster and recycling facility are expected to be fully operational in early 2014. That could never have happened without a strong public and private partnership, with a goal to do whatever it takes to save well-paying manufacturing jobs in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Legislature, through the statewide Port Development Assistance Fund, recently granted the Port Authority $795,000 as part of the Barge Terminal 1 dock wall rehabilitation project. Because most of the dock wall was built more than 50 years ago, with a significant portion of the dock wall originally constructed during the WPA days of the 1930s, this rehabilitation funding is highly significant. 


Inland redevelopment continues to be in high gear: over the next two years Saint Paul will have a new regional ballpark (assisted by the Port Authority through negotiating and purchasing the large vacant building and then conveying this property to the City for demolition and redevelopment); a Japanese machining equipment manufacturer’s nationwide distribution headquarters in the Port’s River Bend Business Center; a new heating and cooling system the Port is constructing at its Energy Park Business Center(a year ago, the Port Authority broke ground on an $8 million enhancement to the heating and cooling system for this 218-acre Center, which serves 25 buildings); and new industrial private sector construction at its Beacon Bluff and Pelham Business Centers.

In return for the Port’s acquisition in Lowertown for the new ballpark, mentioned above, the city will provide title to the 12-acre Saints’ current Energy Park Business Center site---containing its very outdated stadium--- for redevelopment into space for expanding industrial businesses.

The Port Authority is also currently making offers to acquire additional brownfields property to continue its aggressive redevelopment of industrial land, which, when developed, is a major feeder to the City’s tax coffers. 

In the big picture, industrial sector development has had a major, positive impact on the City’s fiscal health and well-paying job supply, as detailed in the findings of the Saint Paul Industrial Study. This Study was completed a couple of years ago by Harvard’s Dr. Michael Porter and his research group, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). The Port has provided the study’s findings to about 125 groups, reaching to date over 1,000 people from the business, residential, philanthropic, banking, university and colleges, and public officials’ arenas.


West Side Community Health Services Inc. has completed a 34,000-square-foot medical, dental and mental health services clinic in the Beacon Bluff Business Center (in the 46-acre former 3M international headquarters campus, which was a brownfield site). The new East Side Family Health Clinic serves 5,000 new patients on Saint Paul’s East Side, which is a medically underserved area.

The Port Authority and 3M cleaned up this site, and the Port prepared the site for development, as well as helped finance construction with a portion of its New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) allocation. Along with the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC)--- a national nonprofit development group with a Saint Paul presence--- the Port Authority delivered a combined $11 million in tax credits to the project. The Port Authority also used portions of its NMTC allocations on the other two developments in Beacon Bluff — $6 million in tax credits to HealthEast Medical Transportation Hub and EMT Training Center, and $9 million in tax credits to the Baldinger Bakery’s state-of-the-art, new manufacturing facility project.

In another initiative that utilizes cutting-edge energy retrofit financing, the Port Authority fully disbursed the Minnesota Commerce Department’s initial $8 million investment in the Port's Trillion BTU Energy Conservation program; most of these funds came from federal Department of Energy (DOE) Recovery Act funds. Those funds were leveraged to provide a total of over $20 million in energy-savings loans to 41 companies in the Xcel Energy service area. The Department of Commerce invested another $7 million in the Trillion BTU program and then advanced $2 million more to launch the Port's new energy-savings program — Energy Savings Partnership — for energy retrofits to local public buildings. The U.S. DOE recently described Trillion BTU as “the most successful program of its kind in the country.” The key difference from typical loan programs is that the repayments by businesses are made from the energy savings experienced.


In the continued search for opportunities to create high-quality jobs, expand the local tax base, and advance sustainable development in Saint Paul, the Port Authority, as noted above, has reached out throughout the Twin Cities to promote industry as beneficial to community well-being. The ICIC Industrial Study found that Saint Paul is rich in industrial assets but that they are not fully utilized to help the city---and its residents who need good jobs---thrive.  People who have heard the study results have overwhelmingly agreed that industrial businesses are essential for maintaining the services and amenities to which residents have become accustomed in Saint Paul.  

With its long history, recent achievements, and results of this outreach, the Saint Paul Port Authority is poised for another 80 years of success.