As cities grow outward, some citizens are calling for the redevelopment of existing abandoned properties in already developed areas. However many of these sites, from tiny lots and gas stations to large land tracts and factories, may be unattractive to investors and developers due to suspected or known contamination.
Failure to reuse such “brownfields,” as they are known, is one factor that drives new economic activities and housing out of the nation’s urban areas.
“Brownfields don’t get redeveloped because it is difficult to attract capital to higher risk urban projects, especially when open space in suburbs is available,” says Peter Meyer, a professor of urban policy and economics who directs a center at U of L devoted to redevelopment issues.
Meyer says the Center for Environmental Policy and Management works with local and state governments and federal agencies to develop policies to redevelop land in urban areas as an alternative to suburban expansion. The center is housed in U of L’s College of Business and Public Administration.
“We want to look at how to solve these problems in order to reuse more abandoned properties,” Meyer says. “A broad center goal is to make environmental policy more economically and environmentally efficient. That concept drives all of the work we do.”
Within the center is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 U of L Environmental Finance Center. This center provides technical assistance and training to help officials develop public policy that spurs private revitalization of brownfields, among other topics.
“People think of brownfields as being large abandoned steel mills or factories that are on large tracts of land, but actually the average brownfields are just around the corner from us all,” Meyer says.
An estimated 400,000 to 600,000 brownfields of all sizes are in the United States.
A particularly large example can be found on U of L’s campus. For nearly a century, the 92-acre site where Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium now stands was a CSX railroad yard.
The stadium construction from 1996 to 1998 was Kentucky’s biggest brownfield redevelopment project and is widely regarded as a success story in the industry.
But most brownfields in the United States are less than an acre in size, Meyer says. Many are former dry cleaning establishments, gas stations, welding shops and other small establishments that used chemicals, solvents or oils in their business. Some are abandoned homes as well.
One approach to brownfield redevelopment examined by the CEPM, working in partnership with Northern Kentucky University, is the use of environmental insurance.
Environmental insurance policies protect brownfield owners and developers from site cleanup cost overruns and other liabilities arising from past contamination. The center’s ongoing work for the EPA national brownfields office promotes ways the public sector can use these policies to stimulate private redevelopment.
To help public officials tailor their programs, the center has launched a new project with partners in Washington, D.C., and Maryland to examine what incentives offered by local and state governments could encourage developers who now invest in suburban projects to reclaim and reuse brownfields.
Kentucky’s Rep. Anne Northup was instrumental in securing funding for the center.
“By examining how developers value different incentives, we hope to find out the best mechanisms for stimulating development that serves both profit and environmental quality,” Meyer says. “Then we can provide better guidance to policymakers about what they should and should not do.”