It's the end of an era for St. Paul now that demolition has begun at the Ford plant that was so much more than a place to clock in and clock out of for the workers who visited the site one last time on Monday.
For 86 years, vehicles ranging from the Model T to iconic pickups came off the assembly line, but years of slowing production eventually led to the plant's closure a year and a half ago.
In Aug. 2010, Mayor Chris Coleman and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty went to the headquarters in Detroit in effort to convince company officials to keep the plant open and save about 750 jobs -- but Ford still chose to close the doors in 2011.
Now, the deconstruction of the landmark plant is under way -- and the first day brought out a crowd of former employees and residents in the Highland area. Ginger Murphy told FOX 9 News she drove all the way from Wisconsin to try to explain the meaning of the place to her grandchildren.
"We were talking about it on the way over and they didn't know what a plant was," she said. "I said, 'No, it's not something green. It's a big place where they do lots of hard work and manufacture things."
Murphy grew up a few blocks away from the plant, and she told FOX 9 News that -- even when times were tough -- anyone who had a job at Ford could put food on the table.
"My buddy's dad worked here and one day, he came up and he said, 'Hey, Mike. You wanna work at the Ford plant?'" Mike Melgard, a retired worker, recalled. "Well, when I heard the pay I thought, 'I'm there.'"
Melgard drove his Ford Roadster down for the day to see the place where he worked for 30 years before retiring in 2008. He joined a crowd of other former employees and their families.
Carol Rix met her husband while working at the plant and she was one of the last people to work on the last truck that rolled off the line.
"Three out of our five children have actually worked here at one point," she reflected. "It's sad -- sad that it's gone."
The paint building, a large structure built in 1985, will go first, but the older areas will be treated a bit differently.
"The 1925 building that runs along the Mississippi River boulevard, we recognize there's some nifty architectural cues there," said Mike Hogan, manager of the site. "Some outdoor lighting, some carvings -- that we want to preserve, potentially to be used in the future redevelopment."
Before that development can begin, crews must also rip up all the concrete slabs to remove contaminated soil underneath. Samples show arsenic and lead in the area, and that means the envisioned redevelopment of housing and retail will be years away. It's estimated the process could take between two and five years in all.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman envisions the space to become a pleasant destination for residents, and the area could house shops, playgrounds, walking and biking trails, homes and possibly a light rail.
"Today is a bittersweet day, but it is a day that marks a giant step forward," Coleman said.
Coleman also hopes the redevelopment will attract Fortune 500 companies.
KDFW FOX 4
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