Coming Clean for Economic Development

Virtually every city in the nation’s older industrial regions, no matter its size, grapples with the challenge of unused manufacturing facilities and other industrial sites. Local public officials, economic development practitioners, and plant owners who have sought to revitalize fallow industrial properties face a daunting challenge: contamination of the buildings, equipment, and surrounding land and water. Public concern about health effects from hazardous chemicals, stricter environmental laws, and changing private-sector development priorities have made it increasingly difficult for communities to restore and reuse former manufacturing sites. In many situations, private developers and financiers are not able, or willing, to act on their own to ensure that the full economic potential of site reuse will be achieved. Rightly or wrongly, the ambiguity of statutes governing liability and cleanup has increased the uncertainties and perceived problems associated with brownfield activities. Heightened concern over environmental problems has brought a new dimension to the risks that lenders face and the hurdles that developers and local agencies must overcome. Communities that allow brownfield sites to remain inactive lose the tax revenue and employment opportunities generated by thriving operations. Existing streets and roads, water lines, rail spurs, and other infrastructure systems go unused, while additional tax revenues are spent to extend the same services to developments springing up in the outlying “greenfields” beyond the urban boundary. This report shows that vigilant attention to development priorities can help reverse these patterns and invite growth and investment back into existing cities.

1996 Coming Clean for Economic Development