St Paul blocks waterfront project — a tale of what can go wrong

The Saint ReportRetail, saintblog2 Comments

st_paul As manufacturing declined across the country, cities from Baltimore to San Francisco have reclaimed waterfronts for recreation and development. But in St Paul, along the Mississippi River, an unusual situation has emerged, according to The New York Times.

A well-known local developer, proposing the largest project in St. Paul’s history, has been prevented by the city itself, with the support of some pro-development forces, from building an upscale mixed-use community directly across the river from the downtown. more

Bryan Mills, a division manager for Saint Consulting in Boston, comments below on the problems faced in this project.

2 Comments on “St Paul blocks waterfront project — a tale of what can go wrong”

  1. Bryan Mills is a Saint Consulting division manager, based in Boston:

    From the beginning, it was clear that The Bridges team felt the project was exciting and dynamic enough to overcome any concerns the neighborhood or the city had. The reality was that the team was too “in love” with the project to effectively navigate the local political/approval process.

    As a threshold issue, the plan for The Bridges flew squarely in the face of the neighborhood plan/guidelines that the city had worked hard to put in place (the St. Paul Riverfront Development Corp. mentioned in the article). The framework involved a great deal of collaboration between the city and ordinary citizens, and it was three years of very hard work. The neighborhood saw The Bridges proposal as saying: “We know you worked hard over three years to put guidelines in place, but things change and this project is so dynamic, we need to change the guidelines or at least give The Bridges a pass on them!” This just did not play well with the locals. For example, there was a very stringent height restriction in place as part of the guidelines, but The Bridges called for two 30-story towers (!). Obviously, in an area where views are important to locals, this was not popular. For all the pre-game done on this project – the drawings, the models, the mock ups, the pre-sales – I would have done much more outreach and citizen education. It was going to be a long, slow process to get the citizens and ultimately the city to go along with The Bridges project but Jerry Trooien and his team felt they could trump all of this with their exciting vision.

    The project was probably winnable, but it was going to be a hard fought campaign at the ground level to get there, and The Bridges team did not seem willing to put in this kind of supreme effort.

  2. Mike Saint is chairman and chief executive of The Saint Consulting Group:

    All clients (and their marketing people) want to sell features and benefits of their project. They are all in love with the design and even the idea of their “baby.” The trouble is that selling features and benefits does not create a political movement supporting the project.

    Those who oppose change could care less about the project’s features. They are worried about its adverse negative impacts on them and their own lifestyles. That fear leads to passion and that passion leads to political action. That is why our polls show twice as many have opposed a project as have supported one, and that is why if no steps are taken by the developer to actively recruit supporters, city hall will be packed with angry opponents with not a single supporter in sight. And we all know how a politician responds to an angry mob.

    It is up to Saint Consulting to make sure the client understands that politicians respond to feedback from real voters, not slick presentations from out-of- town professionals and that you have to actively and doggedly “get out the vote” if you want to win a land use fight.

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