You might not think of brownfield redevelopment as being trendy, but Andrew Kleiner at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation knows it is.
“Brownfields are back,” he says excitedly. “When it comes to redevelopment, brownfields are where it’s at. That’s because they actually cost less to redevelop in the long term. There might be additional expenses for site preparation up front, but over time it works out to the same or less than developing a greenfield because the infrastructure’s already there.”
As Director of Redevelopment and External Affairs, he is charged with leading the Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative, which focuses on the reuse of abandoned and underutilized commercial and industrial properties. LVLRI applies for and receives federal grant funds from the Environmental Protection Agency to assist in the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfield sites. The organization also layers federal and state funding programs for maximum effect to help get a site redeveloped.
Kleiner and the LVEDC team really know what they’re doing; LVLRI just completed one of its busiest and most successful years in its 18-year history, working on 21 active redevelopment projects in various stages and securing nearly $1 million in federal grant funding for regional development.
“We cultivate strong relationships with representatives from the three cities and two counties that LVEDC serves,” Kleiner explained. “It’s partnerships and working together that gets these projects done, and we have a great relationship with Allentown Economic Development Corporation.”
Together the two agencies continue to advance cleanup activities at the Allentown Metal Works site with support through the state’s Building in Our Sites grant and loan program and the City of Allentown’s EPA-funded Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund. In the recent past, they’ve worked on numerous projects together including the Neuweiler building, the Calo building, and the Kline building, all located along the waterfront in downtown Allentown.
“The project that residents are probably most familiar with is the Trifecta Technologies building on Hamilton Street,” Kleiner said. “The building sat vacant for over 20 years before being renovated into office spaces on the upper floors and the Bell Hall restaurant on the first floor. The hazardous assessment revealed lead paint and asbestos, which were remediated before the building opened.”
The EPA grants fund Phase 1 of site assessment. Typically completed in two to four weeks by a qualified contractor following ASTM International standards, the environmental assessment includes a site visit for a visual inspection, historic records review, and interviews with past principals related to the business that took place on the site.
The report generated by the review provides a list of recognized environmental conditions to be addressed in Phase 2 when soil and water sampling and testing is performed along with lead paint and asbestos surveys. A site cleanup plan is then developed. EPA grants fund half of the costs related to the second phase, with the site’s owner or a developer covering the other half.
Allentown Economic Development Executive Director Scott Unger serves as LVLRI’s Chairman. In Allentown, AEDC owns and operates several brownfields sites, including Allentown Metal Works on the city’s south side.
“These assessments are important to perform on all brownfield sites we hope to redevelop,” explained Unger. “Often when a site isn’t redeveloped for many years it is due to real or perceived environmental conditions. This review and the subsequent report tells us exactly what we are dealing with so that we can determine the steps required to make the site more attractive to a potential buyer or developer.”
“The most important thing to know about brownfields is the redevelopment takes time,” Kleiner stresses. “It just doesn’t happen overnight. There’s nothing out there that we can’t redevelop, but it takes time. The goal of brownfield redevelopment is to remove blight, create jobs, help sensitive populations, increase property values and improve walkability in a community. LVLRI isn’t afraid to take on the area’s most challenging projects.”