Suiburban city redevelops brownfields
Glendale, Wis., borders Milwaukee’s older, industrial north side to the south and west, and affluent suburbs to the north and east. The city of 15,000 is fighting to establish itself between the two extremes by tackling two common urban problems: blighted industrial properties and environmental contamination.
Rather than wait for developers to propose projects for its blighted areas and risk further economic and aesthetic decline, the city formed the Community Development Authority (CDA) to promote the redevelopment of brownfield sites in accordance with Glendale’s overall development plans. Initiatives undertaken with little federal or state financial assistance — planning and marketing, property acquisitions, persistent blight clearance and remediation — all fostered brownfield redevelopment.
The most recent success story is the Glendale Technology Center, a 35-acre redevelopment project on a former brownfield site. “Glendale saw real potential in this former industrial area and seized the opportunity to invest in its own economic future,” says City Administrator Richard Maslowski.
The project is expected to improve the city’s tax base, expand employment opportunities and restore the area’s environmental quality. Ultimately, land that once hosted abandoned manufacturing and retail buildings will be transformed into a contemporary business park. Redevelopment of the site, including the need to clean up contaminated soil, was not without complications. Site work performed in the shadows of demolition crews included the collection of more than 300 soil samples, the installation of 19 groundwater monitoring wells, the removal and disposal of lead-impregnated parquet flooring, and the excavation and off-site treatment of more than 25,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil beneath floor slabs.
Numerous projects had to be completed within one year. Milwaukee-based Opus North demolished a 700,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, completed site excavations and site remediation, and extended basic utility services.
Remedial action plans were prepared and executed before official approvals could be obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Therefore, the city’s engineering consultants worked to minimize the CDA’s risk of noncompliance by arranging periodic meetings with the DNR’s site manager to update the regulatory agency on project status and obtain feedback on the overall project approach. The department’s staff provided valuable feedback on the agency’s level of comfort with continuing site work prior to formal approvals being granted.
Finally, execution of the project would have been impossible without stable revenue sources. The city’s tax base was not considered a viable funding option; therefore, an alternative method of recouping the substantial upfront improvement costs was required.
A combination of tax incremental district financing, land sale proceeds and state grant assistance is being pursued to support the CDA’s long-term amortized cost of its initial investment. Maslowski says the city’s risk has been rewarded with the sale of more than 70 percent of the site to private developers and the construction of more than 425,000 square feet of new office and warehouse space.