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Ramsey County commissioners on Tuesday thought enough of a potential developer’s vision for five acres of prime riverfront property — including a four-star hotel, housing, retail and offices — that they authorized county staff to move ahead on a development agreement.

That agreement with Cardon Development Group for the site of the former Ramsey County jail and West Publishing buildings could be completed by the end of the summer. Work on the proposed $225 million to $250 million development would take about three years to complete, officials said Tuesday.

Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega said the vision for what the site could become is exactly what officials hoped for when they approved spending $17 million to clear away the old buildings and make the site “shovel ready.”

“It’s money well-spent,” Ortega said.

Preliminary plans call for a mix of uses rising up the bluff from Shepard Road to several stories above Kellogg Boulevard, including a four-star hotel with 200 rooms, 300 market-rate housing units, 60,000 square feet of office space, and 30,000 square feet of retail along Kellogg. The development would also include 1,200 parking stalls and a public plaza that would connect the downtown river bluff and the proposed River Balcony project to the riverfront below.

County officials said the project will require no additional public funding, beyond what the county paid to demolish the previous buildings, and will not use tax-increment financing. Don Cardon of Cardon Development, based in Phoenix, said he expects to attract $60 million to $80 million in private equity for the project, with commercial lending to make up the rest of the costs.

Other amenities could include a skating rink and an amphitheater. Elevators or stairways would connect green space along Kellogg to the river below. The development would tap into the holiday vibe of nearby Rice Park during Christmas and the Winter Carnival, he said. “This is, in my mind, somewhat of a front door to the river,” Cardon said.

It would likely be built in stages, he said. Parking along the bluff building behind apartments facing the river will likely be the first phase. A hotel and office towers on Kellogg would be next.

Demolition of the buildings that were on the site is nearly complete and a retaining wall to stabilize the bluff is expected to be finished by August. More information is available online at

Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt said the project will transform land that has long been off the tax rolls into an important new source of revenue.

“To me, this is an exciting time for what we can do with this property,” she said.

James Walsh • 651-925-5041