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Mayors Lead Brownfield Efforts

By Derrick L.Coley

A panel of Mayors consisting of Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, East Palo Alto Mayor R.B. Jones, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Glen Cove Mayor Thomas Suozzi shared their work in improving brownfield sites in their cities as part of the Showcase communities effort. This initiative demonstrates the value of focussed and coordinated assistance from over 20 Federal agencies and to show how these agencies and work with state and local government to aggressively redevelop brownfield sites. There are now 16 federally designated showcase communities, with EPA planning to name more next year.


Mayor Kirk discussed Dallas' revitalization work to date with the creation of over 40,000 new jobs and the leveraging of over 3 billion dollars of public and private investment. The challenges they faced were core urban areas isolated due to environmental contamination and clean up issues, yet surrounded by successful communities. However Dallas moved forward utilizing the assistance offered by the Environmental Protection Agency and has cleaned 20 sites. Kirk stated that the community, property owners, developers, City of Dallas, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Council and Environmental Protection Agency all share the responsibility in communicating as much information as possible with each other. The result has been several successful projects an example is the apartment complex built recently with 450 units in downtown Dallas that was originally an old paint factory. The paint factory had been idle for 18 years and the City of Dallas was able to obtain 35 millions dollars worth of investment to clean and renovate this brownfield site. Additionally, the Dallas Arena is under construction that is a public and private partnership with the City of Dallas contributing 125 million dollars for development. The Arena is located on 65 acres of land which was owned by a utility company, who agreed to let the City of Dallas move forward with purchasing the site to build the Arena. One key factor in this project was that the utility company had the vision to know that remediation would was needed before they would be able to sell the site, they set aside 5 million dollars for clean up. Mayor Kirk stated, "This is an extraordinary tool for us in the public sector, not just from a profitable stand point in regards to taxes, but more importantly making a community whole. If you can take a corner where there used to be a gas station and then turn it around into a day care center it adds a lot more value to a community."

East Palo Alto

Mayor Jones has implemented several solutions to solve the problems that once plagued East Palo Alto by reducing crime to attract business development and utilizing economic revitalization as a mechanism of opportunity. Mayor Jones has recently issued the first 25 million-dollar municipal bond for the purpose of reinvigorating economic development. The City of East Palo Alto has attracted businesses such as Home Depot and Office Depot fostering private investment. Also Mayor Jones is currently working on waterfront redevelopment to create a marina, hotel and office complex. This area was used by the county as a junkyard with 15 junkyards in all, now this area has been cleared to begin remediation. The City of East Palo Alto has culminated all of the resources available through the Showcase program to make it a better city. Mayor Jones said, "Brownfields is the one opportunity to bring all of the agencies together to make a city a truly livable place."

Fort Wayne

Mayor Helmke's experience with brownfield redevelopment involved many agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and others. Fort Wayne was the first city to coordinate this effort and establish a level of collaboration between the federal, state and local governments. Mayor Helmke has identified people who are committed to making a change in their community to revitalize brownfields. Mayor Helmke stated, "You need to look for leadership, attitudes and commitment. If you get that in your community, even if you haven't been named a Showcase community you will start to make a difference. The crucial point is the mindset and the attitude." Mayor Helmke started the dialogue of looking at the brownfields issue from the mindset of recycling land, just as other commodities are recycled. Mayor Helmke has focussed his attention on changing the attitude of communities and developers who may look at open green spaces, but not consider the true costs of developing. The City of Fort Wayne has utilized taxes and public investment to increase private investment. The City of Fort Wayne's goal is to turn brownfields into positive areas that attract jobs and improve infrastructure, Helmke stated it was more important to allow local residents to feel good about where they live and becoming more active in securing a positive economic future.

Glen Cove

Mayor Suozzi said, "The Glen Cove waterfront, a unique location on Long Island Sound is to be revitalized and once again serve as a valuable economic focal point, in harmony with the natural environment." Glen Cove was designated a "Brownfields Showcase Community", and obtained $1.4 million in retransformation funds from the Environmental Protection Agency. Glen Cove Creek is the site of Mayor Suozzi's efforts to reenergize the economic outlook of his city by generating development in brownfield areas. The first phase of his plan includes cleaning up a one-mile stretch of Glen Cove Creek, which was a major industrial center. Mayor Suozzi's plan involves restructuring a 214-acre area into a working waterfront by 2003 in which tourist attractions will have designated areas. Plans include an amphitheater and park to serve as entrance points to downtown. Additional aspects of the project include making Glen Cove Creek more navigable and to create pedestrian walkways. Mayor Suozzi stated, "We have dared to dream, and now we are making that dream a reality."

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