As I was making the walk from my car to class the other day, I couldn't help but think there ought to be a better parking system that could circumvent the whole thing. It might have been only a five-minute walk and come across as lazy, but that got me thinking of the stories my grandpa use to tell me. They were anything from having to hitch hike 15 miles to school to riding his bike with his friends and showing up half way into the school day. Those kind of things sound crazy now, but were truly a reality back then. It goes to show the obvious progress that has been made in terms of development and transportation. If so much change has occurred since then, what's the future of real estate development?
While that question by no means has a definitive answer, a current project in the making might give some insight to what the future may hold. The proposed project would take place right next to where I grew up and went to high school, Arden Hills, Minnesota. It is the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP), which has been inactive for quite some time now. The site was mostly used during WW II and reached its peak during the Cold War when it was home to 26,000 employees who produced small arms ammunition.
Some may recognize the TCAAP name as one of the potential sites for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, before Arden Hills eventually lost the bid to Minneapolis. After that, the 427-acre parcel was purchased by Ramsey County with the hope of creating an urban village.
The concept may seem foreign to most, but summed up it is a form of new urbanism in which every conceivable necessity of life would be placed within a single community. This means everything from diverse commercial employment, to schools, to restaurants, to shopping centers and everything in between. The notion has been passed along for many years in the real estate world, but most are hesitant to say a true urban village has ever been built.
There are many reasons for this, most having to do with logistics. How can one manage to convince enough companies, enough families, and conger up enough activities to be placed all within walking distance of one and other? The idea itself is innovation at its finest but most are hesitant to be on the ground floor of this massive project. Alatus LLC, which has taken lead of the TCAAP project has already proposed to construct fewer single family homes and compensate that by substantially increasing the number of apartments and condominiums. This was has been one of many red flags for Arden Hills as it appears to be more urban that they had originally anticipated. However, the $28.5 billion already spent to purchase and remediate the site makes it too far along to back out now due to disagreements regarding overall vision.
Due to the use of the site during WW II, the ground itself was severely contaminated by anything from base neutral acids to pesticides and it is said that some of the damage will never be able to be fixed. A contaminated site, with an overly ambitious vision, and the concern for extreme density have made many skeptical over the continuation of development in Arden Hills. In terms of density, there is the potential for it to be greater than both St. Paul and Minneapolis. That goes to show the nature of this project. One way to overcome that issue would be mass transit. Continuing the light from downtown to Arden Hills could fix transportation issues, but enough people have to get on board to make that a plausible solution.
The issues of this site are blatantly obvious. It's in Arden Hills, not necessarily what comes to mind for a ground breaking national project. The site is contaminated to the worst degree and logistically it could be a complete nightmare. However, I love the idea and if the city of Arden Hills can stomach the risk I think this could be the forefront of real estate development. They could go down in history as the first true urban village and likely the beginning of what is to come. It only takes one individual to think differently and out of the box for something great to arise. No more driving in rush hour to work, no more painstakingly long grocery store runs, and no more anxiety to get to school on time. Everything will quite literally be right in front of our eyes.