Click the linked names for each site to visit their Brownfield Listings!
Spurs clicked slowly and intentionally down the halls of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA last week. Carrying ropes and with hats pulled low over their eyes, the wranglers came from all corners of the country to bust some bad brownfields bulls at the 2017 National Brownfields Conference.
The Thundering Herd did not disappoint, and the wranglers took it by the horns. Some of the biggest, baddest brownfields out there were herded into Pittsburgh last week to meet their match in three sessions organized by Brownfield Listings and the TAB providers (KSU, NJIT and CCLR). Between the Developers Talk Deals pre-conference workshop and the Big City and Small Town Redevelopment Rodeos, sessions were packed with an intimidating assortment of wild and wooly brownfields. Most were publicly owned, with no responsible party in sight. Many had been grazing on local tax dollars for maintenance, policing and fire services for over a decade, while contributing nothing to the tax rolls.
Fortunately, the wranglers had busted more than a few bad brownfields bulls between them, and they wasted no time getting down to business. If anyone could hit paydirt with these tricky sites, our wranglers were it -- and our audience! In all three sessions, audience members pitched ideas, asked questions, and actively contributed to the discussion.
Lance Robbins, Urban Smart Growth, Mary Hashem, RE|Solutions, Kevin Gremse, National Develpment Council and Sarah Sieloff, Center for Creative Land Recycling
The Thundering Herd was a group of unique sites, but the problems they presented were anything but uncommon. Locomotive Breath from Boston (aka the former Lewis Chemical Company) weighed in at a relatively small 0.7 acres, but packed a cleanup cost estimated at $4-5 million. Backed by the Neponset River and fronted by a new commuter rail station, the wranglers saw opportunities for commuter uses, or even high density housing. They also recommended tools like insurance archaeology to find any additional funding that could be lurking in the property’s chain of title.
The challenge for Boston is that any housing development would have to be tall in order to accommodate enough apartments to make a building on the site pencil (50 was the number of apartments estimated in discussion). A tall building would be inconsistent with the neighborhood fabric, but as one wrangler pointed out, the site sits at the end of the road, which might actually make height work. Wrangler Mary Hashem noted that the contamination was such that capping the site might not work as a cheap cleanup solution. Mary went on to offer that “If you’re going to have to spend cleanup dollars, do something to create value for your community. Think about social return on investment,” which measures extra-financial value that isn’t reflected in conventional accounting -- related to the concept of the triple bottom line. Density, Mary noted, will be a key factor to generate social return. Lance Robbins backed her up: “Density is the price of magic.”
The Widow Maker made its presence known with an attention-grabbing two-minute video. This mixed-use property on the Erie Canal in Lockport, NY is five acres just outside of downtown. This city-owned property has an active railroad as its Southern boundary, and a 60-foot cliff on its eastern side. It was home to industrial activity for 130 years (and a “motorcycle cemetery” for 10,000 motorcycles more recently), and any structures were destroyed in an arson fire in 2013. The site was cleared, but contaminated fill sits 65 feet deep, with PAHs and a variety of metals as contaminants of concern. As if things couldn’t get more complicated, the property also has tunnels running under it, which are home to the longest underground boat tour in the U.S. Putting a two-foot cap on the property would cost $2 million, and digging and hauling the contamination could run up to $12-15 million. Lockport declared bankruptcy several years ago, which leaves the city with few financial incentives to offer. On the positive side, the site has no groundwater contamination.
Blase Leven, Kansas State University
Wranglers urged the city to consider how it could leverage other regional assets to help make the site attractive, such as access to transportation or the area’s local tourism market, which may justify a hotel and retail on the site. Lockport is 30 minutes from Niagara Falls, and a hotel could be a way for Lockport to capitalize on some of the region’s tourism revenues.
Then there was Jacksonville’s Green Monster. Cut off from downtown by a freeway, this former superfund ash disposal site neighbors a historically disinvested neighborhood, but its location on McCoy’s Creek offers the potential for recreational uses (like incorporation into a 30-mile trail network) and much-needed green space. The site’s superfund designation creates several long term challenges, noted wrangler Mary Hashem, but with planning, they can be managed. The site is big enough to accommodate multiple uses, like a trailhead complex, park, and active recreational uses, but Mary raised concerns about the lack of alignment between the parcel’s zoning and potential end uses the City was considering -- she suggested looking at the property as several potential parcels.
Colin Moore and Maurice Postal, City of Jacksonville
Mary also recommended that the city consider how the site’s reuse could benefit the neighboring environmental justice community. To the extent that the site is safe enough to use, wranglers made suggestions for interim uses that could draw people in. “Music, alcohol, caffeine and art” were cited as good starting points. Mary noted the need to “get people to envision the site being something other than what it is today,” and recommended that the city consider CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) as a potential method for managing crime concerns around the site. Wrangler Lance Robbins agreed with Mary, noting, “The fundamental thing is to create value based on good community...make it a place.” Wrangler Kevin Gremse noted the need to consider every possible financial incentive to make disposition possible, like tax abatement. Audience members urged the Green Monster’s handlers to think about creative ways to work with local corporations and philanthropy to use the site to promote health and physical activity in the Brownfields to Healthfields+ model.
Photos of the Great Ball of Fire, the former McClung Warehouses in Knoxville, inspired gasps. It’s a good looking site in the sense that only a brownfield in need of love and investment can be. With tricky topography, buildings destroyed in multiple fires, and a location highly visible from the freeway and a few blocks from Knoxville’s hopping downtown, the 5-acre site composed of eight parcels has its challenges, and wrangler Lance Robbins loved it, noting “As brownfield sites go, this one’s probably one of the easiest I’ve ever seen. As development sites go, it’s one of the most challenging.”
Lance’s comments focused on the importance of taking advantage of Knoxville’s surrounding network of interconnected streets via a “highly interactive, phased development process.” He delighted in the viaducts and tunnels near the site that lead out to the surrounding entertainment area, and spoke about the importance of incorporating these features into the site’s reuse and making them inviting, as cities like Madrid and Barcelona have done with their pedestrian-scale tunnels. Noting the large homeless shelter a few blocks away from the site, Lance noted the strong opportunity to use the site to create transitional employment opportunities to reintegrate the local homeless population via job training like culinary programs. “The economics of that are tremendous,” noted Lance.
Lance Robbins, Urban Smart Growth
Kevin Gremse noted that that the site provided a nice opportunity for a disposition process because the contamination isn’t profound and the City controls the entire 5 acres. Kevin advised, “You want to attract proven developers with mixed use, mixed income experience. Use a two step-process: first an RFQ, so that you know who you’re dealing with, and then challenge the developers to come up with creative solutions to the site. It really lends itself to creative thought in terms of what the best program is.” Even a design competition could be an option. Mary Hashem also suggested that the City consider creative ways to manage materials on the site. Asbestos, for example, can be stabilized via incorporation into new concrete. Such procedures can save on disposal costs while also producing structural materials for redevelopment.
The Great Ball of Fire’s sister site, Dirty Laundry, posed a different challenge. In its day, the Laundry was a major employer. The pint-sized 0.3 acre site is home to a dilapidated but potentially historic building undergoing $800,000 in roof repairs, the costs of which the City and its partners hope to recoup in a sale of the property. The City has previously attempted to solicit bids for redevelopment, with no success -- the cleanup scares potential developers off. Lead and asbestos are major problems, and the cost of cleanup has outstripped available grant resources.
Expert panelists offered thoughts about managing vapor intrusion risk and strategies to help the City recoup its investment in remediation and building repairs. The City estimates its cost of vapor mitigation at about $170,000. Panelists Kara Allison and Brad White offered suggestions focused on different approaches, including specific approaches to managing vapor intrusion risk within an existing structure. They also recommended exploring the risk of vapor intrusion in the surrounding neighborhood, noting that this risk could scare away investors if not addressed.
Panelist Kara Allison also advised Knoxville to work with state to explore whether it might be possible to remove a $75,000 state lien against the property (a previous IRS lien has already been removed, leaving state and local tax liens). Put another way, panelists urged the City to think about “Where are the carrots, and where can the roadblocks be removed.” To this end, several panelists recommended constructing a “kitchen sink list” of every available incentive or point of leverage. Sources for this information include state economic development organizations or associations, county or regional groups, and on the private side, economic development consultants.
Finally, the question of vision arose. Is it better for the community to have a clear cut vision for the site’s reuse? Panelist Lee Hoffman offered that the answer is always “it depends.” A clear vision can limit the number of developers or investment partners who will entertain a project. That said, when it comes to local vision and the degree of match with a developer’s vision, “The best answer is yes, the second best is no. The worst answer is maybe.” Sometimes, as Lee noted, you need a vision to know where the limits are.
Monroe is no stranger to bad brownfields, having busted no fewer than 28 in recent years. For a city of just under 20,000, that’s mighty impressive. The Monroe Mean Machine is a former industrial site that now consists of a concrete pad and a smokestack next to a rail line, at the gateway to the City’s most underinvested neighborhood and just a block or two from a new fire station. In a twist that sets it apart from our other properties, the City doesn’t yet own the site, but is deciding whether to buy it from the previous owner’s estate. Expert panelists offered thoughts about the site’s grading, and agreed that the site’s cap might not need to be removed, depending on reuse plans. Developers also gave specific suggestions about putting housing on the site, including what financial incentives might work well.
Jamie Smith (City of Boston) addresses our expert panel of developers. From left, Erika Scott, Lee Hoffman, Kara Allison, and Brad White.
Montana Mad Max (owned by the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes) weighed in at an impressive and intimidating 100 acres, but the wranglers and the audience weren’t phased. Ideas flew like dirt off galloping hooves -- could the tribes use available labor to haul the site’s uncontaminated woodwaste? Could the wood waste be compacted or prepared for commercial composting on site, so that its preparation created value and jobs while reducing transportation costs? Is there room for a hotel, given the site’s proximity to the National Bison Range? The road past the site, noted wrangler Jesse Silverstein, is one of the only roads from Missoula to Glacier National Park, and presents strong opportunities for recreational uses, from tent and RV parks to fishing and ancillary commercial uses (the site is at the confluence of two rivers and is already a favorite fishing spot).
Wrangler Matt Ward also encouraged the tribes to think about how the site’s assets connect with other regional economic assets, such as the tourism economy. “It’s a unique problem, but you’ve got some unique assets,” noted Matt. From the audience came the idea of a boat launch or boat rides, and working with trucking companies to explore whether trucks making supply runs route to Glacier National Park could use their empty return trips to Missoula (about 70 miles from the site) to fill up with and haul some of the tribes’ wood waste at a discounted rate. Dan French, CEO of Brownfield Listings, noted that he’s seen similar arrangements in coal communities.
Sarah Sieloff, Center for Creative Land Recycling and Dan French, Brownfield Listings
The Baker City Bruiser casts a long shadow in this Oregon Trail town. Among other uses, the former Odd Fellows’ building was a brothel in the distant past and is located at one far end of main street, a history and location that causes some community members to cross to the other side of the street even today. Cleanup on the site is fairly simple and estimated at $120,000, and the site is owned by the local school district. Remediation and redevelopment are being managed by the country’s only high school brownfields class, which has a $200,000 EPA cleanup grant. The question for the Bruiser, therefore, is how the class can proceed with redevelopment, get the rest of the community on board, and sell the site productively. Handler Megan Alameda posed several thoughtful questions about how the students could manage remediation while supporting the building’s bagel shop tenant (where business has suffered due to fears of and rumors about contamination), engage the community, and move the project forward.
Megan Alameda, Baker School District
The wranglers focused their comments on community engagement methodologies. Wrangler Matt Ward commended Megan for bringing youth, economic development and educational together. He recommended the National Endowment for the Arts as a potential resource for Megan and her students, which could provide small grants to help grow Megan’s classes’ efforts to bring art into this project. Matt also suggested putting resources into a highest and best use analysis to help identify what the building could be upon redevelopment. EPA and TAB, Matt noted, could be excellent resources for this. Wranglers Jesse Silverstein and Kevin Gremse noted that Megan’s students might be the best ambassadors for this project, and that their involvement could be a lever to engage families around the community in ways that hadn’t previously been considered. Kevin also recommended that Megan look into whether the building could be designated as historic, which might provide additional resources to leverage.
Matt Ward noted in his closing comments about the Baker City Bruiser that every city, big or small, has its nay-sayers, and he emphasized the power of vision to combat negativity. “Create a vision, draw pictures, write essays. Stick with it.” None of the presentations that we saw at the Rodeos and Developers Talk Deals lacked for vision, grit, and creativity. Thank you to everyone who wrangled, herded, and corralled these brownfields into Pittsburgh. We look forward to continuing to work with you.
Special thanks to all of our expert panelists who made these sessions possible:
Kara Allison, Environmental Management Specialists, Inc. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Gremse, National Development Council | email@example.com
Mary Hashem, RE|Solutions | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee Hoffman, Pullman and Comely | email@example.com
Lance Robbins, Urban Smart Growth | firstname.lastname@example.org
Erika Scott, Herman and Kittle Properties, Inc. | email@example.com
Jesse Silverstein, Development Economics | firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Ward, Sustainable Strategies DC | email@example.com
Brad White, Hull and Associates | firstname.lastname@example.org
And to all our presenters who herded their wild and wooly brownfield beasts into the chute:
Megan Alameda, Baker School District | email@example.com
Amy Fisk, Niagara County, NY | firstname.lastname@example.org
Marlene McDanal, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes | Marlene.McDanal@cskt.org
Jamie Smith, City of Boston | email@example.com
Anne Wallace, City of Knoxville | firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Wallace, City of Monroe | email@example.com
Willy Welzenbach, Newfields | firstname.lastname@example.org
And to our partner, Brownfield Listings.
Visit CCLR's facebook page for more pictures from the National Brownfields Conference 2017!