Ramsey County Riverfront Property Deconstruction Project

Interview with Bruce Thompson Ramsey County Property Manage

Q. With the Riverfront project what has been the process for deconstructing the property?

Ramsey County is committed to the 3 R’s: Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse. It is with this commitment in mind, that we are “deconstructing” – rather than “demolishing” – the former West Publishing and Adult Detention Center buildings.  Our process started with the removal, and safe disposal, of all the hazardous materials.  All of the materials in the buildings that have salvage or re-use potential have been removed and repurposed to extend their useful life.  Scrap materials such as copper, steel, and aluminum are being removed and recycled for alternate uses.  The brick and other cementations materials are being crushed on site. These aggregate materials will be used to raise the entire site.  Some of the aggregate materials are also being used at the Union Depot for rail bed material.

 Q. What challenges have you faced with the deconstruction of the properties?

Similar to any project of this scope and magnitude, the “unknowns” and “surprises” associated with the project present challenges – and this project has had its share of both.  The challenges have included unforeseen or undiscoverable hazardous materials as well as schedule conflicts with adjacent projects. For example;

  • A paper thin layer of Asbestos was found under 4 layers of flooring in the oldest part of the West building.  This portion of the building was constructed of wood and the asbestos layer was the preferred method of restricting the spread of a building fire during that construction era.  Of course our consultant tested three layers down, and the ceiling under the floor and was unaware of this asbestos layer.  As a result, four layers of flooring had to be removed on 5 floors.  Following that, the asbestos was exposed, watered down, scraped and bagged.  Unidentified asbestos was found in the roofing materials, the wall glues, and ceiling tile glues throughout the buildings.
  • The project includes the installation of 500+ rock bolts used to stabilize the bluff behind the buildings.  Drilling into the sandstone bluffs resulted in almost 40% of the rock bolts failing to grout correctly resulting in re-installation of several rock bolts at additional cost in both time and money for the project.  The complete installation of the rock bolts was required to be completed before deconstruction of the West building could begin.
  • During the deconstruction of the Adult Detention Center, the City of St. Paul Public Works Department was in the process of rebuilding Kellogg Boulevard from Wabasha Street to Market Street.  The demolition and the reconstruction of the bridge portion of Kellogg Street conflicted with the deconstruction of the Adult Detention Center.  For safety reasons and to get the Wabasha/Kellogg Street intersection open for commerce, the deconstruction of the Adult Detention Center was temporarily stopped for roughly six weeks.

We have also learned that challenges become opportunities. Our consulting engineers and our contractors have worked closely together to re-engineer several of the rock bolt installations.  The environmental contractor found ways to expedite the floor removals required to expose asbestos.  And the City and County partnered to share in the costs caused by the conflicts between the two projects.

Q. What changes have occurred during the construction process?

While the project completion date has been extended, the original project goals of making the site “shovel ready” for development has not changed.  Our engineering consultants from Loucks Associates have constantly re-engineered several components of the project as we faced conflicts and challenges.  The result will be several changes or modifications from the original design documents, with no discernible evidence or reduction in the outcomes expected from the project.

Q.When do you expect to be finished with this project?

This summer, the casual observer of the site will notice the construction of the concrete retaining wall on the site of the former Adult Detention Center.  Additionally, the rock bolting will be completed soon, and the deconstruction of the former West publishing building will begin in August.  Deconstruction of the former West building is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.  The concrete retaining wall will continue west from the former Adults Detention Center along Kellogg Boulevard as the West building is deconstructed.  The retaining wall construction will continue during the construction season of 2017.  The project will be completed once the site is graded and prepped for development sometime in the late summer/early fall of 2017.

Q.What are the next stages after the deconstruction is done?

The County and the City of St. Paul see this site as the premier development opportunity in downtown St. Paul – and they are anxious to see this site developed.  The County Board (owner of the land) will most likely issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) sometime in 2016 for a developer and/or broker team that has the vision, experience, and financial wherewithal to create a game changing development on this site.

Q. Any other information you would like to include?

The Ramsey County Riverfront Property is the premier development site in downtown St. Paul.  There is no other site in the Twin Cities area that can match this site for access, downtown community, and incredible panoramic views of the Mississippi River valley.

The County has entertained many developers over the past several years interested in the Riverfront Property.  The proximity to downtown St. Paul, the ease of access to the site, and the spectacular views of the Mississippi River are among the many benefits of the site.  However, all the developers we talked to agreed that the “unknowns” of hazardous materials, the condition of the river bluffs behind the building, and the demolition costs, outweigh the benefits.

The County Board believes in the value of this site and has stepped up and authorized over $15 Million to “remove the unknowns” from the Ramsey County Riverfront Property and make this site “shovel ready” for development. This site has the potential to be a “game changer” in downtown St. Paul.  We are looking for a developer that shares our vision for this great site.


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