Brownfields: The New Green

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By Cara Aliek

It seems everywhere you look these days, the message of environmental consciousness is grabbing for our attention. Gargantuan gas-guzzling SUVs are slowly being passed over for more environmentally-friendly hybrids, retailers are reaping the benefits of offering products that donate a portion of their sale to environmental protection efforts, and a growing trend — if not the largest in terms of size and money — is re-establishing the functionality of land and buildings. In some cases, these properties are designed using energy-efficient Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles, a trend still continuing to explode.

This spring (May 5-7) Detroit hosts The National Brownfields Conference and with many sites still untouched, (it’s estimated 1 million brownfield sites are available in the U.S.) investors and developers are taking advantage of their benefits. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few upcoming brownfield projects and what they’re doing to reuse, reduce and recycle community eyesores. We’ll also introduce a company that helps persuade companies to donate their vacant industrial property so they can be used for small businesses.

Brunswick, GA

During World War II, the J.A. Jones Company Shipyard cranked out 99 Liberty ships in Brunswick, Ga. Today, a $2 billion waterfront development is slated to begin construction first quarter 2008 on the former shipyard’s site and is one of the biggest brownfield redevelopments in the country. The 155-acre community will feature approximately 1,600 residences, 250 home sites, a boardwalk and a 450-wet slip marina, the largest marina between Charleston, S.C., and Miami.

Georgia Representative Jerry Keen and Brunswick Mayor Bryan Thompson pushed for legislation to start brownfield redevelopments, which lured Liberty Harbor developer WW Group Holding/Liberty Harbor Development LLC. Mayor Thompson says his city has already seen great support.

“As a port city with a good deal of waterfront industry both past and present, Brunswick is a prime example of a city that has truly benefited from the Georgia Brownfield Program. Brownfield sites can be invaluable and catalysts for growth as evidenced by the success of Liberty Harbor. (Liberty Harbor) has become the centerpiece for the economic development of our community,” Mayor Thompson said.

National Brownfield Associations CEO Robert Colangelo says Brunswick’s historic value, underutilized land and opportunity for growth made it an easy choice to redevelop this brownfield.

“In an area of such incredible natural beauty and rich history, successful brownfield redevelopment is also a cornerstone of sustainable growth. Rather than using pristine green space for new and necessary development, brownfield sites provide the opportunity to return underutilized land to the community in a way that best serves their present and future needs,” Colangelo said.

Another highlight of the project will include the Liberty Harbor Yacht Club, which will overlook the marina and offer entertainment and dining options. The club will also provide education and training programs to teach safe boating practices that will stress awareness and protection to endangered marine life.

Colangelo added, “For many years, brownfields were most associated with the heavy industrial areas of the Northeast and Midwest. But we’ve come to realize that these sites exist across the country. In Georgia and across the Southeast, it is along the waterfront where we are seeing some of the first brownfield redevelopment opportunities. Using brownfield sites is the highest form of recycling and the ideal foundation for the construction of energy-efficient, green buildings — brown is the new green,” he said.

Ann Arbor, Mich.

Strathmore Development Co. broke ground on this $171 million mixed-use project in December and is expecting a fourth quarter 2009 completion date. Located adjacent to the University of Michigan Health System medical campus in Ann Arbor, this project will include 185 residential units, 152,689 square feet of medical and general office space, 138,275 square feet of retail space and a 760 parking garage.

Scott Chappelle, president of Strathmore, says his company has completed a number of brownfield projects over the last 10 years, most with some degree of contamination.

“(Lower Town) was a contaminated retail center formerly anchored by a Kroger and later a CVS/pharmacy. The contaminated soils will be removed to an appropriate landfill and the intent is to remediate the contamination to residential standards,” Chappelle said.

The project will receive tax increment financing through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Washtenaw Brownfield Redevelopment Authority in order to remediate pre-existing environmental contamination to residential standards.

Chappelle added, “The environmental contamination is migrating towards the Traver Creek and will eventually impact the ground water to the point of significantly increasing the risks of exposure to surrounding residents. By removing the source of the contamination, this risk will be avoided.”

Lower Town is being constructed by Clark Construction Co. and will achieve LEED certification.

Greenville, S.C.

A $600 million, 75-acre, mixed-use development is getting organized on the site of the former Hoechst Celanese fiber plant in Greenville. GreenbergFarrow, an Atlanta-based architecture, planning and development consulting firm, is handling the planning and design of the town center and is working with McChesney Investment Advisors on this ambitious project.

Woodruff Point will feature 500,000 square feet of retail, 600,000 square feet of office space, a 420-room hotel, restaurant space, 1,225 condominiums and 1,125 apartments. Walkways, bike trails and recreational green spaces will be incorporated.

“This is one of the largest brownfield redevelopment projects in the country that will transform a 2 million-square-foot factory, on a site that has become a virtual wasteland, into a vibrant urban center,” said John Clifford, principal of planning at GreenbergFarrow.

“Taking on a redevelopment project of this scale is no small task and we eagerly accept the challenge. The initial stages of site development will play an essential role in ensuring its long-term success.” he said.

Shay Eskew, director of development at McChesney Investment Advisors, said getting the project approved for things like zoning and road structure has required perseverance.

“It was a pretty extensive start. The main road, Carolina Point Parkway, had been designed based on the previous (industrial) zoning and we met with the city and neighboring property owner to explain to them our vision for the (mixed-use) property. They were agreeable along with our sellers to do a land swap to put in a new road design. It was something that took three land owners to make happen,” Eskew explained.

“The plant was operational in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s and was part of a larger assemblage that was once over 200 acres,” Eskew said.

“Getting into a true brownfield requires a lot of extensive testing to really understand what all the potential issues might be,” Eskew concluded.

The first phase will be the demolition of the factory, which is expected to begin early this year, with the

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