U.S. Mayor Article

Best Practice: Brownfields Redevelopment Project Spurs Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

April 30, 2001

Charlotte/Mecklenburg County's impressive economic and commercial development over the past 20 years has created large numbers of jobs and enormous economic wealth for the region. But, it is posing challenges too—ones that if left unaddressed will threaten the region's high quality of life. At the top of the list of these challenges are traffic congestion and loss of open space for greenways, wildlife habitats, and farming, all due to urban sprawl. Charlotte is doing everything it can to improve its inner core to manage these impacts so that they do not drain the central city's vitality—especially now that the region is constructing an outer loop beltway. A key proactive strategy adopted by the city is brownfields redevelopment.

"Our brownfields redevelopment project with the Chamber and Mecklenburg County is a win-win for everyone. It will ease pressures to develop on farmland and help to increase jobs and strengthen our neighborhoods," said Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory.

"While Charlotte doesn't have the same level of brownfield problems that older industrialized cities have," says city revitalization manager Tom Warshauer, "we know we have many sites with that specter of contamination and that's hindering small businesses who would like to locate or expand here." There are close to one thousand brownfield sites in the city according to one study.

In 1996 Charlotte was one of the first cities to receive an EPA brownfield assessment pilot grant, which it applied to its SouthEnd-Wilmore area—an underdeveloped, two-square mile section just south of its rapidly growing center city.

Since that first grant, the city has established a sophisticated brownfields program to help property owners and developers overcome the barriers that contamination presents for the redevelopment of infill projects in Charlotte's distressed business districts and neighborhoods. An assessment component provides matching funds to property owners for environmental assessments at sites suspected of contamination. A revolving loan component loans funds to private borrowers for clean up at approved sites. The city also pays for a full-time state employee to expedite local brownfield applications through the state's environmental regulatory process. With a proven track record, Charlotte's brownfield program is considered a model for the rest of the country.

Consistent with a long history of public-private partnership, Charlotte has made a point of engaging the private sector and the banking community in its brownfield redevelopment efforts. So it is not surprising that the Chamber of Commerce would step forward in this community to recommend a special public/private venture involving the city, the county and private developers to bring business development to Charlotte's distressed employment corridors, starting with a brownfields redevelopment project on Charlotte's west side.

For some time the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Chamber had been looking for a way to help the city stem the loss of employers to other areas of the region. In 1997 it approached the city with the idea of creating new business parks in the inner city.

The first step was the three entities created the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Development Corporation (CMDC) as a vehicle to carry out its plans. The 15-member board for the CMDC includes local elected officials (both city and county), private sector developers, bank executives, and community leaders.

After selecting a corridor to work on, the CMDC held ten community outreach meetings. Over 340 people attended these meetings to solicit community input, and in May of 1998 the CMDC came up with a strategic plan for the development of a business park on Wilkinson Boulevard. Realizing it needed substantially more money for a project of this magnitude, the CMDC then met with its representatives in Raleigh and asked for state assistance. It also asked city and county officials to help identify sources of federal funding they might go after together. All of these efforts resulted in a $1.250 million HUD Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grant, $1 million from the State General Assembly, and supplemental assistance from the city and the county.

The biggest challenge was yet to come, however: assembling into one parcel the 33 acres that were in the hands of 17 different owners. Dealing with contamination has been the other hard part. CMDC began to deal with what was "in the ground" in the spring of 2000. There was some urgency because HUD would not let the CMDC draw down its funds until it had completed an environmental site assessment and come up with an acceptable remediation plan. This, of course, had to be coordinated with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Currently, the CMDC is boarding up buildings, pursuing demolition permits, and remediating the site. They have also started thinking about the final development, marketing the site to manufacturing-oriented businesses. Now with 7-10 prospects, they have a ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for May 18th with all of the politicians and contributors.

In the case of the city, it has provided significant funding for the project ($1.225 million through FY01 and $1.125 million earmarked for FY02) and was the grantee for the HUD EDI grant. Perhaps more significantly, because of its past brownfields experience, the city was able to give the CMDC the courage to approach a more difficult site, and to connect it to resources to deal with the environmental and legal problems it encountered.

The county's involvement also has been critical for the project's success. It has thrown its support behind the project, contributing substantial funding (at equivalent levels to the city) and making investment grants available to qualifying businesses who locate or expand in the area.

Finally, the private sector has brought a whole set of other skills and resources to the project. Along with financial resources, they have brought expertise on how to put together land deals and market redeveloped property—areas with which they are intimately familiar from the world they operate in on a daily basis.

Tom Warshauer
Employment & Business Services Manager
City of Charlotte
eMail: twarshauer@ci.charlotte.nc.us

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