Brownfields Programs as a Revitalization Tool: NC Case Studies

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Site Plan for the River Landing Park in Williamston, NC

Site Plan for the River Landing Park in Williamston, NC

Last month the CED blog published an overview of Federal and State Brownfields programs and how these programs can assist in remediating and revitalizing tough-to-develop sites that  are plagued by environmental contamination. This post will provide two case examples of how the US EPA and NC Brownfields Program have been employed in two North Carolina communities.

Case #1: Conover Station, Conover, NC

In the town of Conover, an abandoned Broyhill Furniture manufacturing plant has been turned into a revitalizing, mixed-use development. Conover (population 8,165) is located in Catawba County, just east of Hickory along Interstate 40. When the Broyhill plant closed its doors in 2005, it quickly became an eyesore in the heart of the community. Petroleum and volatile organic contamination from years of underground and aboveground storage tank use was present in the soil and groundwater, with problematic product lines existing underground and throughout the buildings. Despite the challenges, the town saw potential to redevelop the site into a mixed-use development that would preserve the historic Warlong Glove building as its centerpiece. 

To accomplish this vision, the town of Conover purchased the site in 2005. Conover began its brownfields process by submitting a state brownfields application and receiving an EPA assessment grant to understand contamination on the site. To clean up the site, the project was also eligible for grants from the Federal Transit Authority and Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The town also used an EPA loan through the Land of Sky Regional County’s revolving loan fund.

Conover Station, pictured, won the 2015 Harvard Ash Center Bright Idea in Government award. (Photo courtesy of Town of Conover, NC.)

Conover Station, pictured, won the 2015 Harvard Ash Center Bright Idea in Government award. (Photo courtesy of Town of Conover, NC.)

Conover was able to successfully transform the 6.8-acre site into a multi-modal transportation hub for trains, buses, and cabs that would also houses a library, computer lab, and coffee shop. In 2012, the Manufacturing Solutions Center opened a state-of-the-art, 30,000 square foot center to promote job creation in the region adjacent to the Warlong Glove building. Additionally, a 40,000 square foot commercial building housing a large fitness center opened on the site in late 2015. This $4.4 million project is the largest new construction in downtown Conover in several decades. The Conover Station site will also soon include a public park with walking trails, a stormwater pond and playground.

Case #2: River Landing, Williamston, NC

In the town of Williamston, a collection of brownfield sites near the Roanoke River are being rehabilitated as part of 47-acre redevelopment district that will connect visitors and local residents to recreational opportunities. Williamston (population 5,511) is located in the northeastern part of the state, in Martin County. In 2011, the town received $400,000 grant from the US EPA to assess contamination and develop plans with the community to achieve its vision of a waterfront recreation area. The grants, which were managed on behalf of the Town by environmental and engineering consultant Mid-Atlantic Associates, included funds for community outreach, site inventory, environmental site assessments, and cleanup and redevelopment planning.

After rehabilitation, River Landing Park in Williamston will connect an existing county park with a boat launch on the Roanoke River. (Image courtesy of Town of Williamston).

After rehabilitation, River Landing Park in Williamston will connect an existing county park with a boat launch on the Roanoke River. (Image courtesy of Town of Williamston).

In 2015, the town used its plans to apply for and receive additional grants to convert two abandoned brownfield parcels that were part of the redevelopment district. The parcels, one of which is a former Royster-Clark site and the other is a former Windsor Oil site, were eyesores for the community. To accomplish this project, the town combined a $350,000 US EPA brownfield cleanup grant with a NC brownfields agreement to make the project a success. Redevelopment on the project that will connect the existing Moratoc Park with a boat launch on the Roanoke River is set to begin in 2016. When complete, the site will contain a visitor center, a replica Tuscarora village, space for community gatherings, and a dog park.

These two projects represent only a sliver of the $2 billion dollars in private investment that the brownfields programs have leveraged across North Carolina. Stories of other successful brownfield redevelopments can be found here on the NC DEQ website.

Making a brownfields project a success in your community

The redevelopment of brownfield sites is a complicated process, but the many benefits can be well worth the effort. By combining grants from the US EPA with a delineation of activities required for cleanup and liability protection from an NC brownfields agreement, revitalization projects on brownfield sites can be possible. For more information, the Division of Waste Management has a useful list of links for federal brownfield resources here. For help applying for US EPA grants for a brownfield project in your municipality, you can contact the NC Brownfields Program staff or reach out to Michael Norman at the U.S. EPA Region 4 office in Atlanta (404-562-8792, Norman.Michael@epamail.epa.gov).

Tim J. Quinn is a Community Revitalization Fellow with the Development Finance Initiative. He is also a second-year master’s student in City and Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill where he is specializing in economic and real estate development.

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