This summer, workers are building a channel and bridge that will connect a recreated upper Hidden Falls Creek with the lower falls at East River Parkway and Magoffin Avenue.
It’s part of the redevelopment occuring at the former Ford Plant.
For nearly a century, the Ford Assembly Plant was a landmark in the Highland Park neighborhood. After it closed 10 years ago, the city of Saint Paul worked with area stakeholders and community members to develop a new plan for the 122-acre site. Ryan Companies, a national real estate developer with headquarters in Minneapolis, purchased the site in 2019. It is one of the largest land tracts open to redevelopment in the Twin Cities.
Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) has collaborated with Ryan Companies, the city of Saint Paul, and many other partners to design a new mixed use development there called Highland Bridge. The plan will implement clean technologies and high-quality design for storm water management, renewable energy, energy efficient buildings and infrastructure. At its core is a water feature that will recreate the historic path of Hidden Falls Creek, and return clean, filtered water to the Mississippi River.
Reviving a creek long buried
Hidden Falls Creek was buried and paved over prior to construction of the Ford Assembly Plant. Since then, impervious surfaces at the site have sent runoff downstream without treatment, destabilizing the underground creek and carrying pollutants to the river.
The revived Hidden Falls Creek will flow to Hidden Falls Regional Park through a channel underneath Mississippi River Boulevard. The 90-foot channel will connect the park with Highland Bridge. Adjacent to the creek, a paved pedestrian and bike path will end at a terrace overlooking Hidden Falls. CRWD will contribute grant funds for this portion of the project in addition to providing funds for stormwater management.
Called the Mississippi River Boulevard Crossing, construction of the channel and bridge started in April; traffic has been detoured around the construction area since May 10. The parkway is expected to reopen in the fall, once this first phase of the project is complete.
In addition to its aesthetic and recreational benefits to Highland Bridge and the broader community, the system now taking shape will filter pollutants year-round. Much of the system’s stream path has been built, and is receiving finishing touches before the water starts to flow later this month.
Innovative stormwater storage
The stormwater collection system consists of a series of underground tanks, surface ponds, and manufactured wetlands that all support the central water feature. Designed to hold 3-7 feet of water, the flow isn’t expected to run dry during drought or get overwhelmed by torrential rains because of the steady ground water supply.
Bob Fossum, is the Monitoring and Research Division Manager for CRWD. He said, “The Ford site is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply sustainable practices to a very large piece of land in the heart of the city, and take a leading role in improving environmental health for future generations. We see this project as very positive from a water resource perspective.”
Increased green space and wildlife habitat
In addition to the underground storage and filtration practices, there are several large rain gardens and a manufactured wetland that will collect and filter stormwater runoff for the central water feature. Rain garden and wetland plants will provide beauty and increased wildlife habitat, while helping to clean water as it passes through the soil.
The stormwater systems will capture and clean an estimated 64 million gallons of water annually. This will prevent approximately 55,200 pounds of total suspended solids and 145 pounds of phosphorus from entering the Mississippi River each year.
Prior to redevelopment, polluted stormwater from this site entered the river untreated. By cleaning and reusing stormwater in the central water feature, rainwater will be a resource – instead of a waste product.
The four new city parks and public open spaces within Highland Bridge will be available for public use beginning next summer.