See the article below from the February 22, 2016 Meriden Record-Journal about how the City of Meriden has leveraged grants from the state and federal governments to redevelop its old industrial downtown. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about brownfield redevelopment opportunities in Connecticut or if you have any questions about the remediation and redevelopment of environmentally challenged properties throughout the U.S.
Brownfield cleanup grants helping reshape downtown Meriden
Published: February 22, 2016 |
By Molly Callahan Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — Between cleanup grants, Transit-Oriented District planning and implementation grants, and Choice Neighborhood grants, the city has received more than $24 million in state and federal money for downtown Meriden in recent years.
Any visit downtown yields the sights of a city in transition, with construction in almost any direction one looks. The former Hub site is nearing completion as a flood storage basin and park; a new train station on State Street is taking shape; a Meriden Housing Authority and Westmount Development Group joint venture at 24 Colony St. is springing up; 11 Crown St., 116 Cook Ave., and the former Factory H site are all nearing cleanup and demolition; and residents of the Mills Memorial Apartment complex are leaving and the buildings are about to be torn down.
All this, while year after year, residents urge elected officials to attract more businesses and more private development to lighten the tax burden on homeowners.
According to information provided by city Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski, within the past decade Meriden has received $24,401,000 in state and federal grants.
The city received at least $12.9 million toward the Hub park alone from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Another big area of investment has also been in brownfields cleanup.
The EPA defines a brownfield as “any land in the United States that is abandoned, idled, or underused because redevelopment and/or expansion is complicated by environmental contamination that is either real or perceived.” Unlike Superfund sites, which pose a real health or environmental risk, brownfield sites “represent an economic or social threat, since they prevent development and therefore stifle local economies.”
Between state and federal sources, Meriden has received more than $5.7 million in brownfield grants.
“Meriden industrialized very early so it’s largely built out,” said City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior. “As such, there are very few large undeveloped parcels of land.”
Through the early 1800s, handfuls of factories harnessed the power of Harbor Brook, which nearly bisects the city. Meriden got the nickname “Silver City” for the breadth of its silver manufacturing capabilities, and its contribution to the war effort during World War II lent the designation “the Nation’s Ideal War Community.”
“Residents have urged us to look at some of the older sites, many of which we have because of the industrial heritage,” Kendzior said. “For the past 15 years, we’ve been concentrating on that, and doing it in a professional, planned manner has been very successful.”
Tim Sullivan, deputy commissioner of the DECD, said Meriden “is one of the more active cities in our state’s brownfields program.
“There’s a lot of interest from developers in downtown Meriden because it’s doing the TOD,” he said, referring to the Transit-Oriented District. “We’re really excited and thrilled to be partnering with the city and its team. They’re doing real-world planning … and we’re supportive of what Meriden is planning.”
The DECD has furnished more than $4 million of the total $5.7 million the city has received in brownfield funding.
Meriden is certainly not the only municipality in the state actively seeking funding to clean up brownfields. Sullivan noted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s focus on making brownfield cleanup and assessment money available. “The state’s been provided with unprecedented resources to remediate brownfields,” Sullivan said.
Opponents of the program locally are quick to point out that whether or not the money is coming from Meriden or from the state or the federal governments, it is still taxpayer dollars going toward these projects.
“Certainly it is all tax money,” Kendzior said, “but No. 1, it’s an investment … and No. 2, these are what I call ‘categorical grants’ — the choice isn’t between spending the money here and not spending it at all; the choice is between the money being spent here or it being spent somewhere else.”
Further, Sullivan said that for every dollar invested by the state, they find $4.99 invested by non-state sources — either federal, municipal, or private sources.
In Meriden, Kendzior said that for city-owned sites downtown there’s a roughly 200-1 ratio of non-city to city funds. That is, for an investment of $200 million downtown, the city used roughly $1.5 million of its own money.
The city has either designated or is in the process of designating private developers for a number of city-owned parcels, including 116 Cook Ave. and the former Factory H site; the Hub site; and 11 Crown St. The city has also approved plans for private development on the flots bordered by State and Mills streets. In most cases, developments include a mix of housing and commercial space.
Critics of cleanup measures also decry the burden on the city to clean up sites rather than putting the onus on the new property owners.
For brownfield sites specifically, the money used to clean them up is vital to garnering private development, Kendzior and Sullivan say.
“You’re not going to get private investment in something where there’s not a reasonable opportunity to make it profitable,” Kendzior said. “The cost to remediate these sites would make some of them effectively undevelopable.”
Sullivan added that across the state it’s been proven that brownfield sites will not be developed unless there is some effort to clean them up.
“There’s a strong case in Meriden and across the state of these market failures — the marketplace isn’t going to take over these sites, the cost of remediation simply aren’t going to lend to profitability,” he said. “The transformative power that cleaning up these sites can have on cities and downtown neighborhoods is great. It’s a great opportunity to breathe new life into old sites.”
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