Working to protect the Mississippi River and its watershed in the Twin Cities area

St. Paul’s West Side Flats master planning process continues

“Great River Park” is Ben Thompson’s 1992 vision that helped St. Paul see the Mississippi River as a unifying force as well as an important ecological and economic asset. The West Side Flats is pictured here on the left side of the painting with contrasting development styles to a tall downtown St. Paul on the right.

Photo: St. Paul Riverfront Corporation

The process of updating the 2001 West Side Flats Master Plan and Design Guidelines is underway! This document is a guide for private investments and public infrastructure projects in the flats area across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul and bordered by the eastern bluffs. The update process began in early 2013 and is scheduled to wrap up in the first half of 2014.

The draft West Side Flats Master Plan and Design Guidelines Update was released in late 2013. The biggest changes to the 2001 plan in the draft update include:

  • the addition of 60+ acres between Robert Street and Lafayette Road/Highway 52.
  • less prescriptive design guidelines.
  • a comprehensive area-wide stormwater management plan.

The draft Plan has many admirable components. There is an excellent new system-wide stormwater management plan that maximizes stormwater infiltration into natural landscapes throughout the plan area. Additionally, new public spaces, including greenways, green corridors and an improved esplanade along the Mississippi River, are planned for in this document. For transit, the plan also includes improved connectivity and pedestrian loops through vertical connections between the bridges and the esplanade as well as the flats and the bluff top, and a visionary multimodal transit system with the incorporation of a streetcar line and bike lanes through the West Side Flats and across the Robert Street bridge into downtown St. Paul. There are also several development guidelines focused on low impact development near and within this significant bird flyway area. FMR commends the draft plan for these components which will make the Mississippi River more accessible, enjoyable and healthy.

While FMR believes the plan contains many positive components, we are very concerned about the impact of increased building heights within the Flats, resulting from making the draft plan’s design guidelines less prescriptive. The 2001 plan calls for the West Side Flats area to have buildings no higher than six stories. The current draft plan allows for the two city blocks at the intersection of Robert Street and Plato Boulevard to be 10-11 stories tall (125ft) with a conditional use permit, and the four additional blocks along Robert Street closer to the Mississippi River to be developed at 8-9 stories tall (100ft). Taller buildings would alter, and we believe, degrade historic views of the St. Paul Mississippi River bend as well as views of and from the bluffs from throughout the river valley in St. Paul.

FMR continues to gather information about building heights and work with the West Side Flats Community Task Force to collectively better understand the potential benefits and impacts of proposed building heights.

More information about the process and a copy of the draft West Side Flats Master Plan and Design Guildlines Update visit stpaul.gov.