With Water use down, St Paul suggests athletic fields at site of Highland Park Reservoir

The reservoir that once held 18 million gallons of water, hidden beneath a grassy hill in Highland Park, is no longer needed — and Ramsey County and St. Paul have differing visions for what should replace it.

St. Paul is one of many places across the country using less water than in decades past and looking to repurpose old water storage space. As St. Paul Regional Water Services prepares to demolish the below-ground infrastructure at Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway next year, officials are contemplating the future of the more than 4-acre site.

City staff have suggested adding athletic fields for soccer and other sports, while county officials proposed an ice rink and parking lot.

The St. Paul Board of Water Commissioners said Tuesday they might not go with either vision, and they want to request ideas from the public and developers to see what options might be available.

“Does it hurt to put it out and see if there’s any interest? I don’t think so,” said City Council Member Amy Brendmoen, one of several council members on the board.

The Regional Water Service should retain ownership of the site, and with the lack of playing fields and rinks, some public purpose would make sense there, Council Member Chris Tolbert said.

St. Paul’s Blackhawks Soccer Club board member Rob Spence agreed and told the board, “It’s getting tougher and tougher to find space to play.”

But St. Paul also has a dearth of taxpaying properties, Council Member Rebecca Noecker said, and she doesn’t want to rule out any options yet.

From the outside, the south reservoir, which was decommissioned a few years ago, resembles a soccer field: a large, grassy rectangle next to an ice arena and golf course. But the flat space is plateau-like, surrounded by steep slopes and bordered by signs threatening felony changes to anyone who tampers with the property. Below is a large, boxy concrete cave, propped up on columns, said Steve Schneider, general manager of St. Paul Regional Water Services. The landmark Highland Park water tower overlooks the now-empty reservoir.

“The historic water tower will remain. It’s not going anywhere,” Schneider said. But the rest of the site is a nuisance that attracts trespassers, he said, and, “It has no use to us right now.”

The city estimated adding four youth fields, two for soccer and two for baseball, would cost $735,000 with natural turf and $2.2 million with artificial turf.

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