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Old St. Paul Neighborhood Gets Second Chance

A neighborhood revitalization project has its own share of triumphs and challenges.

Thu July 18, 2013 - Midwest Edition
Dick Rohland

On the Mississippi River banks and across its flowing waters from the office buildings of downtown St. Paul, Minn., towering above on 80 ft. (24 m) bluffs, the first housing to be built in decades is now under construction in a long vacant, city neighborhood.

Located near the south end of the city’s Wabasha Street Bridge, a 178 unit, five story apartment building is rising from a neighborhood rich in St. Paul’s history.

Known as the West Side Flats, it was one of the first areas of the city to be settled by its early residents. It was a neighborhood populated by several different ethnic populations for more than 100 years until the city relocated its residents and razed their homes in the 1950’s because the area was prone to frequent flooding.

Located just a little over 1,200 ft. (366 m) south of St. Paul’s downtown business and commercial district, the West Side Flats is a 45 acre (18.2 ha) piece of nearly flat land that sits just above water level. The property for the new apartment building occupies 2.4 acres (1 ha) of the Flats area.

Though located south of downtown St. Paul, the West Side Flats geographically sit on the west bank of the river because they are near the apex of the river’s bend as it snakes north and then back south through the city.

It is part of a larger neighborhood in the city known as the “West Side” because its residents and businesses straddle the west side of the Mississippi River.

Along with Wabasha Street that dips down from the downtown bluff line from a new bridge that was reconstructed in 1998, the West Side Flats are bounded by Robert Street from another bridge crossing that drops down from the bluffs, Plato Boulevard to the south and the river.

Shaw-Lundquist took on this most recent building project on St. Paul’s West Side Flats with a bid price of $22 million. With offices in St. Paul and Las Vegas, the company has more than 40 years of experience in building construction throughout the Midwest and is now moving into the western region of the country. The company is now starting a branch in North Dakota.

Along with the apartment units of various sizes, the new building will include 6,800 sq. ft. (2,075 sq m) of commercial space, a party room and swimming pool that overlooks the river and downtown St. Paul and a one floor, underground parking garage to hold 131 vehicles.

Despite the long, snow filled winter with parts of Minnesota still suffering major snow falls into early May, and a spring filled with rain, the project is going well and on schedule, said Ben Anderson, Shaw Lundquist project manager.

“Construction is going fairly well even though we had one of the most difficult winters in years out here with all the snow and cold weather,” Anderson said. “The spring has been a little challenging also with the rain we have had, though right now we’re still on schedule.”

Shaw Lundquist project superintendent Teddy Ung added that “things are falling into schedule and we’re hitting all the target dates. You can take away the rain though and that would help us a lot.”

According to city of St. Paul sources, after the last residents left their homes here, a levee was constructed and the city set aside the land for heavy industry. That changed when one of the last major industries to occupy a good portion of this area, American Hoist and Derrick, moved its plant out east in the 1980’s making the land vacant for many years.

Hoping to bring back vitality to this part of St. Paul, city officials adopted a master plan for the area that envisioned a mix of residential, commercial, entertainment and recreational uses for the land.

In the mid 1990’s the plan began to become reality when the city, along with the Corps of Engineers raised the existing levee that included a decorative esplanade to protect the area from a 500 year flood and help encourage new development. Then, in early 2000, the first new commercial occupant to the area, US Bankcorp, built a $75 million service center along the Robert Street side of the neighborhood.

Appropriately named the West Side Flats Apartments, the new housing project will bring residents back to this historic part of the city for the first time in more than 60 years.

“The West Side Flats Apartments project is an important first step to populating the West Side Flats, a vision many West Siders have had since their ancestors were forcibly removed decades ago,” said Lucy Thompson, principal city planner with the city of St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development.

“We believe it will put the Flats ’on the map’ in a way that will stimulate future mixed-use development,” Thompson added. “Eventually, the Flats will be a bustling community that will reconnect the greater West Side with the Mississippi River.”

When completed, the West Side Flats Apartments will be the second new neighbor in this revitalizing part of the West Side, Thompson added.

Construction on the West Side Flats Apartments began last November when Levitt Excavating moved in to the site to begin the excavation phase of the project. The Minneapolis based company has 45 years of experience in a variety of projects and operates throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Along with the man power, a good representation of Cat, Komatsu and Hitachi heavy equipment rolled in. One Hitachi backhoe and one Cat backhoe complemented a pair of Komatsu backhoes for the digging operations, while two Cat dozers, two Cat compactors and three Cat skid steers covered the grading work.

A pair of Potain tower cranes stationed on opposite sides of the new building tower above the site for the hoisting operations.

For an inner city project like this one, crews had ideal working conditions because they had the local topography and wide open space on their side, Anderson remarked.

“It’s a really nice site for drainage,” Anderson said “because it rises in elevation towards the river so run-off is able to drain away from the project area, which has been very helpful with all the spring rain we had.

And “we have great access from two different directions,” Anderson added which benefits the delivery and hauling operations. There is an access coming off the end of the Wabasha Street Bridge and another access from Plato Boulevard, a low density arterial that cuts across the bottom of the site and carries mostly commuters during the morning and evening hours.

Despite the long and tough winter, crews lost only three to four days of work because of the inclement weather, Anderson said.

“We were able to get the pre-cast concrete as expected and continued on with all our other activities. Even with the foundations we were able to get them installed without any delays,” he said.

The down side to working in a long-vacant and older part of the city was relocating all the underground utilities.

“We had power, fiber optics, District Energy pipes and phone lines that were all in the ground that we had to deal with,” Anderson said.

At the same time, there was a good amount of contaminated soil to come out because much of the site was formerly occupied by industry. Crews dug and hauled out an estimated 8,000 tons (7,200 t) of contaminated soil, Anderson said.

To help filter out contaminants from storm run-off for the 4,800 sq. ft. (446 sq m) storm management system, crews installed a Triton System with a storage capacity of 19,000 cu. ft. (538 cu m).

Other quantities include 14,000 cu. yd. (10,710 cu m) of imported soil, 1,166 tons (1,049 t) of asphalt placed for the roadway and parking lot and 1,388 tons (1,249 t) of Class V placed for the road and parking lot.

Anderson also estimated that 95 percent of the construction waste including concrete, asphalt and building materials have been recycled to date.

The contract also includes the construction of two new roads that will serve as entrances and exits to both the new apartments and Raspberry Island, part of the city’s park system, that sits just ft. offshore from the building site.

Construction crews will soon begin adding the third story to the new apartment building while crews begin to install the internal mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems.Work will continue through the summer and into the fall to complete the five story apartments by January, 2014.

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