Growing up on St. Paul’s East Side, just five houses away from Hillcrest Golf Course, it made sense that Todd Hurley’s first job was as a Hillcrest caddy.
Now president and CEO of the St. Paul Port Authority, it seems almost destiny that Hurley’s current job has brought him back to Hillcrest — this time tasked with repurposing the 112-acre site into a mixed-use development expected to create 1,000 jobs and 1,000 new housing units.
“I couldn’t be more excited than to be a part of that project,” he said.
Eye On St. Paul recently chatted with Hurley, a 1990 graduate of the University of St. Thomas and a long-time finance official for the City of St. Paul, about his economic development goals for Hillcrest and why he believes the Port is the perfect agency to redevelop the site. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Q: Sounds like you’re a City of St. Paul lifer. Tell me about your background.
A: I actually started my career in 1984 working for the City of St. Paul: I was a recreation aide. When I moved on to St. Thomas, the rec director moved me from Prosperity playground to Desnoyer, which is over by Town and Country golf course. When I graduated: [from St. Thomas]I took a job as an accountant in the parks department.
In the mid-’90s, I moved over to the [St. Paul] Treasurer’s office and became the debt administrator of the city. And in the late-’90s, I became the treasurer. Over the years, I served various roles. I was [former Mayor] Chris Coleman’s [Chief Finance Officer] for 10 years. Mayor: [Melvin] Carter appointed me his first CFO.
Almost four years ago, I had the opportunity to come to the Port Authority [as CFO — he was named president in July].
Q: For people unfamiliar with the Port Authority, describe your job.
A: I’m here to oversee the mission of the St. Paul Port Authority — economic development. That mission is made up of five things. the expansion of the St. Paul tax base; the creation of jobs; and economic development that is both sustainable AND equitable. We are also responsible for four shipping terminals on the Mississippi River. We have more than 25 companies in our terminals on the river.
Q: Tell me about Hillcrest. It does not have tax increment financing (TIF). You are financing it through land sales. How will that work?
A: There’s just this huge opportunity, for the city and specifically for the East Side. And you think, “Why the Port Authority?” But if you understand the challenges of Hillcrest — there is some significant pollution on the site and there is challenging topography on the site.
So, we put together almost a $50 million infrastructure budget. That’s a challenge that the private sector wasn’t going to take on. We have an opportunity to take a former golf course that probably generated $500,000 in property taxes and turn this into a property that can generate about $5 million in property taxes.
Q: How are you going to cover $50 million in infrastructure costs?
A: That’s one of the challenges we’re addressing as we speak. One of the most significant challenges is the grading and remediation of the site. It’s about $19 million for grading and remediation. The rest of the costs — including about $20 million for roads and utilities — is a really manageable number.
One of the tools that the Port Authority has is the ability to subsidize some of our land sales in order to incorporate things like sustainable covenants or workforce agreements.
We’re going to mandate some sustainability on this site, whether it is [electric vehicle] charging stations or mandatory solar on rooftops. We are challenging our development partners who will actually buy this land to build sustainable buildings.
We do have access to some developmental funds — $5 million to $7 million we have on hand — in addition to partnering with the state, with the county and with our other partners. There are grants that we are eligible for [to receive] for remediation. For job creation. That still leaves me a gap of $10-$13 million. We’ve been to the Legislature for two years now [bonding]. I can’t think of a better use for bonds than to build public infrastructure that will deliver 1,000 jobs and 1,000 units of housing.
Q: Are you confident you’ll get there?
A: Yes. I will be working nonstop with my partners with the state, with my partners at the county, with my partners with the city, with the philanthropic community, to try and figure out how to fill that gap.
Q: What’s your timeline?
A: We would like to be on the market, bidding contracts on grading and remediation, in January of next year.
Q: Port Authority projects — such as the Capital City Plaza parking ramp — haven’t always succeeded. What are the main criteria for you before taking on a project?
A: I would say that this is the type of project that — because of our skills, because of our expertise — will work. I know you talk about CCP ramp, but I actually think a more relevant comparison is the 23 other business centers in the City of St. Paul that the Port Authority has taken over — over 525 companies, almost 25,000 jobs and $35 million in tax revenues from those business centers. Taking on a distressed property like the Hillcrest Golf Course, like the 23 other business centers we’re involved in, is in our wheelhouse.