Since 1970, April 22 has been recognized as “Earth Day,” an initiative to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

Themes over the years have ranged from ‘trees for earth” to “protect our species” to “end plastic pollution.” 2021’s theme is labeled “Restore our Earth” and features a variety of environment-focused programs. For economic development organizations, a widely practiced form of environmental protection is the redevelopment of brownfield sites. The US EPA defines a Brownfield as a property that “the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Typically, these are industrial or commercial sites that are idle or underused due to real or perceived environmental impairments. Contrary to popular belief, the sites are not always dilapidated buildings in urban neighborhoods; they can also be remnants of buildings left vacant due to industry changes.

Building A of the Allentown Metal Works site.

The Many Benefits

Brownfield sites involve complex steps to mitigate the development risks and require substantial funding. So why direct so many resources towards rehabbing these vacant or underutilized properties? The environmental and socioeconomic benefits of brownfield redevelopment are exponential to communities. This deliberate reuse of land proves to be both environmentally and financially sustainable.

Brownfield reclamation returns underutilized sites back to local tax rolls. The available space attracts new businesses and manufacturers who will hire local employees, producing a wider range of employment opportunities within a community. The locations are often convenient to workers who can commute to work by walking, riding a bike, or easily accessing major roadways.

Decreased greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle miles traveled are among the most significant ways brownfield reclamation supports environmental sustainability. Revitalizing an underutilized or vacant site is a vital method of preserving greenspace, furthering environmental protection. It also involves the removal of blight, meaning safety hazards or unsafe conditions found onsite are eliminated during the process. And the results provide community members with a healthier environment, free of contaminants, and one with fewer eyesores.

But the benefits don’t end there. Studies done by the EPA have found numerous additional values to communities, many of which are intangible yet far-reaching. Advantages include improvements to air quality and water quality, decreased stormwater runoff, and reduced opportunities for crime. Overall, brownfield reclamation supports a healthier community that provides more jobs, preserves greenspace, and is more visually appealing.

Building B and Building G of the Allentown Metal Works site.

The Urban Sites Initiative

AEDC has a long history of developing these underutilized or vacant sites. We’ve tackled many challenging projects which appeared daunting and stepped in to remove the risks for future developers. Throughout that time, AEDC’s Urban Sites Program has restored economic activity to more than 45 acres of vacant or underutilized sites without the addition of new public roads or sprawling utility extensions.

Five of those redeveloped acres are where the PPL Center currently sits. AEDC played an early role in redeveloping the mixed-use AHL hockey arena and initially assembled the parcels to create the single lot to support the one-million-square-foot complex. AEDC also coordinated other site preparation work, such as remediation, demolition, and bulk earthmoving, before engaging Butz as the project’s construction manager.

Resources are currently being directed towards 24 acres of brownfield sites throughout Allentown. AEDC is pursuing redevelopment of properties located at 826 West Turner Street, along the waterfront, the city’s former incinerator site, and the Allentown Metal Works, a nearly 20-acre brownfield site located on South 10th street.

Back view of Allentown Metal Works Building B.

Brownfield Redevelopment in the News 

Redevelopment of the Allentown Metal Works site.

LVEDC discusses its “Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative“.

Remediation of brownfield site in Enterprise Zone nears completion.

Lauren Matthews