Washington Outlook

Coles Urges Action on Brownfields Legislation at National Forum
Conference President Joins Other Mayors at "Brownfields 2000"

by Kevin McCarty
October 30, 2000

Conference President and Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles told more than 3,000 participants at the opening session of the "Brownfields 2000' Conference in Atlantic City that "mayors want, and need, the federal government to be a partner in supporting our work and leadership at the local level. They could start with brownfields legislation." Speaking at the October 11 session with other leaders, including U.S. EPA Administrator Carol Browner, HUD Assistant Secretary Cardell Cooper, Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and Atlantic City Mayor James P. Whelan, Coles talked about his vision for the New America City. "It is a place where we live and work, and raise our families. It is where the most important activities of people's lives take place," he said.

The "New American City', he explained, is a place that focuses on the well being of the family, the livability of neighborhoods, educating the workforce of the new millennium, and building critical infrastructure such as rail systems to connect among and within our metro areas.

Coles cited brownfields and rail investment as examples of the key issues the nation's mayors are bringing to the two presidential candidates. "Our goal is to get our issues — be it brownfields, smart growth, livability, rail transportation — out front, and on the table, when the Presidential transition begins," he said. Citing their specific interest in the subject, Coles added, "Those of you who have followed the campaign closely know that brownfields redevelopment is already part of the discussion. Our goal is to make recycling of brownfields a priority for all governments - local, state, and federal."

Coles shared key findings from the Conference's work with Standard and Poor's DRI on metro economies. "We have developed a new economic measurement. The Gross Metropolitan Product, or GMP, as we call it shows that cities and their metro areas are the engines that drive the nation's economy," he said.

Urban Sprawl and Brownfields

Relating this data to the public debate on urban sprawl, Coles said, "So, while sprawl is debated on a national level, cities and counties are coming together to evaluate sprawl in the context of their local economy. These local leaders are asking questions about the economics of sprawl. They are able to recognize the value of in-fill development and the beneficial effects of brownfield redevelopment," he said.

"We begin to see brownfields as a productivity measure, in terms of metro economic output. We know our growing metro economies are going to consume land resources. Why not feed them recycled land or brownfields? In sheer economic terms, more of us are seeing brownfields as the preferred choice, hands down," he said.

Coles also recognized Browner for her leadership. "Together we are making progress on brownfields. Administrator Browner, I want to thank you for your personal attention and leadership on this issue. The mayors of America appreciate your efforts," he said.

Bollwage Tells Story of Success

Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, a co-chair of the Conference's Brownfields Task Force, thanked the participants for their efforts "in helping to change development patterns in America. It is what we call at the Conference of Mayors, "Recycling America's Land'." Bollwage told the audience, "As mayor, I have focused on building new partnerships at the local, state and federal levels to overcome obstacles and successfully redevelop several very large brownfield sites. The fact is that brownfields are often the only properties urban areas have to use in creating sustainable new development. We must be able to find creative ways to redevelop them in order to undergo economic expansion and improve our quality of life."

He detailed specifically the city's success in redeveloping a 170-acre brownfield site. "Let me start with the highlights — the Jersey Gardens Mall opened just a little over a year ago. It is over 1.7 million square feet of space and home to 200 stores and restaurants. Over 150,000 shoppers a week visit our outlet mall. Aside from the 1,700 construction jobs, this mall has created almost 4,000 permanent jobs! During its first 8 months of operation, it generated $2.5 million in revenue for the City of Elizabeth. A 22-screen movie theater will open by the end of the year, with valet parking and in-theater dining," he said.

He also talked about the project and its importance in creating jobs for his citizens. "Prior to the mall opening, we advertised this free training, provided one-day classes and organized job fairs attended by over 7,000 people. This strategy paid off! Approximately 2,000 Elizabeth residents are currently working at Jersey Gardens. This is a story that can and must be repeated across this country if we are to tap the vast potential that our many brownfields sites offer our communities," he said.

Conference of Mayors' Brownfields Survey

Bollwage also discussed the findings of the Conference's third national brownfields survey. "The survey found that the number one obstacle was the need for cleanup funds to bring these properties back into productive use, with 90% of the respondents indicating that cleanup funds were needed. And, the second most common impediment issue was dealing with the issue of liability, followed by the need for more environmental assessments to determine the type and extent of the contamination."

He also linked brownfields to concerns about urban sprawl. "These findings suggest that there is a substantial inventory of these sites, leading us to strongly suggest that a strong brownfields policy can have an impact in arresting urban sprawl," he said. Bollwage also noted the Conference's upcoming report on the linkages between brownfields redevelopment and clean air. "So with this report, which is due out shortly, we will identify additional actions that will help us pull together air objectives with brownfields redevelopment," he said.

Whelan Hosts Conference

At the opening session, Atlantic City Mayor James P. Whelan welcomed the many public and private brownfield professionals taking part in the October 11-14 conference, which was held at the city's new convention center. Whelan also talked about his city's successes with brownfields redevelopment and expressed his appreciation to the Conference of Mayors and the many mayors across the country for "helping to make brownfields a national priority."

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