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Brownfields Redevelopment Provides Many Benefits

Excerpts of Mayor Clancey's Remarks
March 6, 2000


I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mayor Penelas, on the tremendous job you are doing in developing this site.

I know from firsthand experience it is not always easy to redevelop brownfield properties.

In my own city of Cedar Rapids, we have three properties including a 25-acre site that was a former meat processing plant that we have been trying for years to redevelop. However, we face the problem of reluctant owners who are unwilling to cleanup and redevelop the site. A site near the heart of our business district.

“A New Agenda for America’s Cities”

I want to stress to all of you the importance of redeveloping these sites…while there are success stories throughout the nation, the report we are unveiling today demonstrates that there are even more examples of missed opportunities.

In fact, as a nation, we could be doing so much more to improve our already strong economy and help people to get ahead.

Because, as mayors, we feel so strongly that our nation could be improved, in September of 1999, our President, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb gathered the leadership of the conference of mayors along with the private sector to develop a 10-point plan that would address the needs of the nation.

As a result of that work, we created a plan called “A New Agenda for America’s Cities”.

Our goal with this agenda is to educate the presidential candidates, the major national parties, members of the United States Congress, corporate leaders, and community leaders about what is needed to continue the momentum of economic prosperity.

The 10-point plan includes such items as making government more responsive to local priorities and metro economies; helping local leaders make America even safer; investing in kids and public schools; and directing tax cuts to challenged neighborhoods and working families.

Mayor Webb and the leadership of the conference of mayors have been traveling around the country to spread the message of this “New Agenda.”

The focus of today’s press conference is item number seven, “Helping Communities Grow Smarter By Recycling America’s Land And Preserving Open Space.”

To show the importance of this platform item, we are unveiling today our third annual brownfields report, entitled Recycling America’s Land, A National Report On Brownfields Redevelopment.

The conference of mayors defines a brownfield site as any abandoned or underutilized property where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.

Status of Problem

231 cities responded to our survey with 210 cities estimating that they had over 21,000 brownfield sites.

Brownfields are also not just a “big” city problem with more than six out of ten respondents from cities with less than 100,000 people.

The obstacles of redeveloping these sites are the same for the third year in a row.

The number one obstacle was the need for cleanup funds to bring these properties back into productive use with  90% of the respondents said that cleanup funds were needed.

The number two issue cited by the cities was dealing with the issue of liability and number three obstacle was the need for more environmental assessments to determine the type and extent of the contamination.

Benefits of Redevelopment

And why do we, as Mayors, want to see these sites redeveloped?

Redeveloping brownfields sites can have tremendous benefits.

Benefits such as tax base growth, job creation, neighborhood revitalization and environmental protection.

Let’s talk money first. Three-fourths of the survey respondents estimated that if their brownfields were redeveloped, they would realize between $878 million to $2.4 billion in annual tax revenues.

This is money that could be used to invest more resources into our cities to make our communities even better places to live.

The second most frequently identified benefit was creating more jobs.  Approximately 187 cities estimated that over 550,000 jobs could be created if their brownfield sites were redeveloped.

That is nearly equivalent to the number of jobs to the people now employed in the states of Vermont And Wyoming.

Land Preservation

By redeveloping brownfields and recycling our land, another benefit is realized and that is the preservation of farmland and other open spaces.

Many brownfields are in prime locations, but because of the fear of environmental contamination, the cost of cleanup and the issue of liability, businesses have turned away from these sites in favor of “greenfields”.

As a result, we have established a “throw away” attitude towards land that we would never consider with other types of commodities.

One of my roles with the conference is co-chairing the mayors and agricultural leaders task force. This task force was formed to develop a closer relationship with leaders in the rural community to find common interests between urban and rural groups.

The Conference of Mayors has recently joined forces with the American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit organization that promotes farmland preservation.

The redevelopment of brownfield sites is one of the issues that we have identified as of mutual interest to both of our organizations.

The reasons why are clear…by redeveloping brownfield sites, we can recycle land that has been used before and ease some of the development pressure on our farmland.

In our survey, cities were asked if they could support additional people moving back into their city without adding appreciably to their infrastructure.

More than 180 cities said they could support additional people with 118 estimating they could support an additional 5.8 million people. That number is nearly equivalent to the population of Los Angeles and Chicago.

By encouraging people to live in cities and by redeveloping brownfield sites, we can possibly slow the development of farmlands and other green spaces.

And we need to do something now. The most recent statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture illustrates an alarming trend. Between 1982 to 1992, we developed, on average, 1.4 million acres per year. From 1992 to 1997, that average doubled to over three million acres per year.

Using those figures, the American Farmland Trust calculates that fifteen percent of all land developed in our entire history as a nation was developed in the most recent five year period.

To put this in perspective – 15 percent of all the land that has been developed in the U.S. was developed between 1992 and 1997.  And, during the same period, the nation’s population grew by 12.6 million people.

Our survey tells us that 5.8 million new people could be absorbed by only 118 cities if we turn our development inward towards brownfields and infill development as opposed to outward and sprawl.

These 5.8 million people are about one-half (46 percent) of the nation’s population growth (12.6 million) during 1992 to 1997.

While we were consuming all of this land (about 15 million acres total – about 3 million annually) we need to ask ourselves what portion of the 15 million acres that were developed could have been saved if we had national policies in place that would recycle land back into productive use and help to encourage more people to choose to live in existing communities.

This is even more significant when one considers that this is the response from only 118 cities. We need to consider what the capacity would have been if we included the nation’s many thousands of other communities.

To redevelop brownfield sites can be a win-win for everyone involved. We can replace eyesores with productive property and we can help ease development pressure on our farmlands and greenfields.

Because of the pervasiveness of this problem, you can see why the mayors made the redevelopment of brownfields and the preservation of greenfields part of our 10-point plan.

Specifically we are calling for the presidential and congressional candidates to “Help Communities Grow Smarter By Recycling America’s Land.”

We are hopeful that this message will get through during what remains of the 106th Congress – we need congressional action to reform provisions of federal law which now discourage private investment in reclaiming these sites.

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U.S. Mayor

Home Search jwelfley@usmayors.org

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