- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2021

SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - As South St. Paul moved on from the stockyard and meatpacking era that put the city on the map, building after building disappeared from the landscape.

However, two brick and limestone gatehouses that served as the entrance to the sprawling Armour & Co. meatpacking campus have remained intact, representing the lone vestige of what was once the world’s largest and most modern meatpacking plant and the city’s former way of life.

But the future of the monuments could be in jeopardy. A commercial developer is interested in buying the city-owned land where the 20-foot-tall structures have stood for more than a century and constructing a 45,000-square-foot office-warehouse building, subdivided as eight condominiums for sale to small businesses.

The location of the structures, which front Armour Avenue in the BridgePoint Business Park, and the triangle shape of the 4-acre site make the planned project undoable without moving them, said Ryan Garcia, the city’s economic and community development director.

A developer has targeted a nearly 4-acre site owned by South St. Paul located along Armour Avenue, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

“They’re not really situated in a good spot,” he said. “So, it’s difficult to figure out how you’d get a building, plus truck access and loading and parking, to work. If you want the parcel to be industrial, for sure they would have to go.”

Garcia said the city council has agreed to try to help make the development work and asked city staff to look further into the options, which include moving the gatehouses someplace else or just demolishing them. Excavators have told the city the structures can be moved to the tune of approximately $300,000.

Some council members also want to open up the dialogue to residents “and let them know that these are the options we looked at and the directions, and kind of give the community the chance to weigh in or say goodbye, I guess,” Garcia said.

Armour’s colossal campus sat alongside the Mississippi River, five miles downstream from downtown St. Paul. Next door were the equally huge Swift & Co. meatpacking plant and the St. Paul Union Stockyards.

Armour’s operation was the largest industrial plant in the Twin Cities and extended more than a half-mile along the river. And for six decades, it put meat on America’s plates. At its peak, the Armour complex had 4,000 employees who slaughtered and sliced nearly 2,000 animals an hour.

“If you worked at Armour or were coming to visit, you would check in with someone at the gate,” Garcia said. “He’d open it and you’d go park.”

But changes in the way meat was raised, packed and marketed turned the factory into a relic. The company closed its South St. Paul plant in 1979, a decade after Swift shuttered its operation in the city.

The six-story Armour complex and its 22 ancillary buildings were demolished a decade later. Only the plant gates were spared.

By the time the Central Livestock Association held its final auction at the storied stockyards in 2008, the city was going full bore on a plan to stay clear of one giant industry and diversify with new businesses that would increase and broaden the tax base.

The city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority already had begun spending millions on land, including gobbling up the 47-acre Armour site, cleaning it and building roads and sewer and water lines with the hope of luring new businesses.

The closed stockyards were then built over with offices, warehouses and industrial buildings as part of BridgePoint Business Park, a development central to the city’s revival. The sprawling park is now a mix of about 110 old and new businesses that employ 5,000 workers.

Langer Real Estate Services is the developer that wants to build the business condos on the gatehouse site. Between 2005 and 2011, the West St. Paul-based company constructed three similar buildings in the business park and believes the market is now ripe for more of the same, Garcia said.

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