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Brownfields Policy: A "Jump-Start" for Urban Redevelopment

Summer 1997

Our Environmental Energy Practice Group would be happy to assist you with any questions relating to this article.

In July 1997, the Milwaukee Department of City Development (DCD) adopted a new strategy to stimulate development by reusing underutilized urban land in Milwaukee. The new strategy focuses on encouraging the redevelopment of "brownfields," land suspected of potential or actual contamination in the City of Milwaukee. The strategy is designed to undermine the perception that "greenfields" development in the rural, outer perimeter of a metropolitan area is more desirable than reuse of land in the economic hub.

Arthur J. Harrington of G&K's Environmental Practice Group was one of only two non-city employees appointed by DCD Commissioner Michael Morgan to a nine-member task force. The task force met over a six-month period and was responsible for developing a strategy to encourage reuse of industrial land for development within the City of Milwaukee.

It makes good economic sense to support reuse of urban lands located at the hub of a community. The task force studied the economic effects of past projects where the agency has been involved in encouraging the reuse of brownfields properties.

In these projects, the city spent $2.53 million for environmental costs. The completed development projects resulted in the creation/preservation of 1,519 jobs and resulted in created/retained private investments worth a total of $72 million. These impressive statistics represent a private/public investment ratio of $28.54.

The New Strategy. The new DCD strategy starts with the assumption that the greatest benefits for encouraging redevelopment of urban lands can be achieved by working cooperatively with private property owners. The strategy focuses on such a private/public partnership to achieve redevelopment results.

The DCD will create a pre-tested inventory of properties with strong redevelopment potential and well-defined, limited remediation requirements. This inventory is designed to address at least two major hurdles to developing reused land-the uncertainty about the environmental condition of urban property, and the lengthy time required for testing and remediation.

Since the policy will focus on private property, it requires the negotiation of site access agreements with target properties and the development of private/public funding for testing/remediation.

Another important element of this policy is the negotiation with the DNR of a "draft assurance letter" for the target property. This letter would clarify all required cleanup actions, for the known property conditions and current remediation requirements. For select properties, the DCD will conduct the required remediation and will solicit a closure letter from the DNR.

Properties placed in the inventory will be actively marketed by DCD as excellent candidates for redevelopment. The new DCD strategy outlines the following criteria for selecting potential land reuse projects for testing and remediation:

1. The project will create/retain the largest number of higher paying jobs in the area.
2. The target area is unlikely to be tested/remediated/redeveloped without government participation.
3. The project has the greatest potential to foster additional redevelopment in the project area.
4. The project is located in relative close proximity to available work force.

The new DCD strategy will also improve the coordination and communication of its brownfields redevelopment efforts. This communication strategy will include designating a brownfields ombudsman within DCD to handle developer inquiries and outreach. The DCD will work closely with the DNR and other state agencies to create a Milwaukee-based case worker within the state agencies to handle city brownfields projects.

Finally, the new strategy includes DCD involvement in the legislative arena to provide additional incentives to brownfields redevelopment. The current state budget initiative includes many important programs that will encourage such developments.

The Future. The City of Milwaukee already has proven that public funds can be effectively leveraged to encourage brownfields redevelopment in the urban hub. Even with such statistics, it is likely that some will still ask how it will work in theory. The new DCD strategy is designed to push aside such theoretical discussion and roll up the sleeves of public planners to get the job of promoting urban redevelopment done right. The strategy is an important first step to stem the tide of perimeter greenfields development and turn urban brownfields into "goldfields."

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