As any owner of a brownfield property knows, the obstacles to cleanup and private redevelopment can be numerous, varied, and complex. Common challenges include remediation concerns, environmental liability issues, and high costs of cleanup efforts. But there are opportunities for bringing new life to properties that have had limited use due to hazardous substances or contaminants if stakeholders can work together on a reuse plan that lines up with the best interests of the brownfield’s respective community. In the case of the Chase Brass facility site in Waterbury, CT, redevelopment is being achieved thanks to successful efforts in gaining public support for its remediation and reuse, and through a strong partnership among various public and private entities.
Industrial legacy leads to contamination issues
The Naugatuck Valley, where Waterbury is located, was a major hub for Connecticut’s historical industrial operations. For two hundred years, factories in the area manufactured precision metal products for consumers and businesses throughout the world. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, manufacturers in the region played a vital role in the country’s wartime efforts, producing huge quantities of items ranging from uniform buttons to munitions. The valley’s Chase Metal Works factory, nicknamed the Mile-long Mill, was one of the country’s leading manufacturers of copper and brass products.
The owners discontinued operations at the Waterbury facility in the 1970s, leaving behind an environmentally troubled property with much of the 600,000 square foot mill unusable. For years, private real estate developers attempted to lease space in the facility to no avail, because rehabilitating the buildings and remediating the site was just too costly. So the site became another underutilized brownfield.
Creative partnership fosters favorable results
For those involved in redeveloping a brownfield, one of the most useful steps you can take is urging all stakeholders to do their part. The more involvement there can be from property owners, private sector stakeholders, regulators, and others with an interest in the project, the more comprehensive the initial plan for reuse can be. Each stakeholder has different concerns—the property owner or developer wants to manage liability and receive a fair price on the property, a private-sector investor or lender likely wants to see a return on investment in the property, and local governments or community organizations want the property cleanup to boost the community’s image or help it to grow. If these parties can work together from the beginning, all these goals have a higher likelihood of receiving attention and getting accomplished.
In the case of Chase Brass, city officials in Waterbury knew that to redevelop the property, the public sector would need to make a significant commitment to the project. Through their efforts, they were able to team up with state and federal regulatory agencies and funding sources that contributed grants and technical assistance to the project. The city of Waterbury ultimately supplied $19 million towards the site’s redevelopment and also served as project manager.
Leaders in Waterbury recognized that the project also had a higher chance of success if constituents from the private sector were involved in the process, and so they reached out to two of the city’s largest tenants, a manufacturer of precision wire products and a leading producer of specialty chemical additives. Both were convinced to expand their operations at the site as a major part of redevelopment. For the public sector, persuading private organizations to share in its vision is not always easy. In this case, the city had shown that the project was important to the community by making its own financial commitment to it, and brought a fully formulated plan for redevelopment to the companies with a team that could make an efficient completion possible.
Involving local government at the ground floor and generating a viable reuse plan can serve as a channel for securing multiple types of redevelopment financing. Grants from the EPA are still a foundational option for cities or land owners. Federal funds are available for assessment, cleanup, and environmental training. States have individual assistance programs, too, that range from tax credits to revolving fund loans. The Chase Brass brownfield is being converted into a first-rate industrial complex, and is just one example of how a creative partnership can tie the strengths of multiple levels of government and the private sector together, and result in the best possible outcome for a brownfield property.