New jobs at old sites: Chamber eyes brownfields for industrial prospects

New jobs at old sites: Chamber eyes brownfields for industrial prospects

July 1st, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Shawn Cotter, left, and Jerry Gray of Valley Mechanical work Thursday as construction continues at the Archer Daniels Midland sweetener terminal being built on Hickory Valley Road in the Enterprise South industrial park. The number of new companies locating in Hamilton County is putting industrial space at a premium.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


This partial list of brownfields includes Hamilton County sites that have been cleaned and redeveloped or still are in process:

• Butcher Block -- M.L. King Boulevard and Broad Street. Complete.

• Chattanooga Brownfields Redevelopment Initiative -- Central Avenue and Workman Road. In process.

• Farmers Market/Old Gas Company -- 11th and Baldwin streets. In process.

• McCallie Homes -- 38th Street. Complete.

• Ross Meehan Foundry -- Located at Finley Stadium. Complete.

• U.S. Pipe and Foundry -- Off Interstate 24. In process.

Source: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation


• Five years ago, Chattanooga's Enterprise South industrial park was a 6,000-acre brownfield. Today, it holds the only auto plant in the world -- the Volkswagen facility -- that has Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

With industrial park space in Hamilton County at a premium, economic developers are looking to the past as a way of growing Chattanooga's future business prospects.

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is crafting a list of former industrial properties with the aim of having some tracts potentially readied for redevelopment.

"There are quite a few," said Chamber Vice President of Economic Development Charles Wood about brownfield sites in the city. "They offer an opportunity with infrastructure already in place."

Wood said his preference is to redo larger sites.

"Those would allow for a substantial project," he said.

Most industrial parks in Hamilton County are full. Industrial park space in the county is at the lowest level at least since parts of Enterprise South industrial park came on board over a decade ago, experts say.

Enterprise South had about 6,000 acres at one time, but now less than 60 acres are uncommitted or not under option. Volks-wagen, Amazon, Archer Daniels Midland and other companies have moved in over the past three years. Also, about half of the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant space was deemed too hilly for business and turned into park space or buffer.

American Tire Distributors is the latest company to land in the industrial park as it constructs a 125,000-square-foot distribution facility on a 9-acre site off Discovery Drive.

Tom Edd Wilson, the Chamber's chief executive, said it's desirable to have both greenfield and brownfield sites in the county to show prospective companies.

"Who can predict what request we'll have from our client base?" he asked. "We're not putting all our eggs in one basket. We're looking at both of those."

Alton Park eyed

Wood said the Alton Park area may be an option for potential brownfield redevelopment locations, but he declined to be specific.

He said the shortest turnaround time in terms of an environmental cleanup would be a key factor in choosing potential sites.

"In economic development, timing is of the essence," Wood said.

Chamber officials said they'd look to some of its traditional funding partners, including the city and county along with private landholders, to help with readying sites.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the idea is an opportunity to see if some of the brownfield properties are marketable.

Finding funds to prep sites would need to be signed off by the county commission, he said.

Richard Beeland, a spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the mayor likes the Chamber's concept.

"It puts untaxable property on the rolls. It recruits jobs. It has existing infrastructure," he said.

While there are cleanup costs, Beeland said the mayor will help find funds if a project makes sense.

He said there isn't any money in the budget for purchasing new industrial park space because none yet has been identified.

"Once we find out ... what's needed to be done, we could find some money," Beeland said. "We could come up with some creative way to do it."

At the same time, money still is due the federal government for Enterprise South industrial park.

Paul Parker, Hamilton County's real property manager, said $5.5 million is owed as part of a deferred payment agreement. He said that sum is due by July 15, 2015.

Central city jobs

David DeVaney, president of NAI Charter Real Estate Corp., said that since brownfield sites are in places such as Alton Park, attracting businesses to the locations is a way of bringing jobs back to the central city.

DeVaney said some sites, because of their past use, might fit specific industries and others may not. Food manufacturers might not be interested in a tract that would work for auto businesses, he said.

The real estate executive said cleanup costs are a factor, and the new industrial user will want assurances that the work has been done.

"The user won't want environmental responsibility for the previous use of the property," he said.

Dan Thornton, the city's director of general services, said how much work it takes to clean up a brownfield depends on the contaminant at the site.

If it's not a hazard, burying it may work, he said. But that often isn't advised because of potential groundwater contamination, Thornton said.

He said the site could be capped, with stormwater captured in holding ponds. Or, Thornton said, the contaminated soil could be removed to a special landfill. Cost would depend on the type of action, he said.

Thornton said cleanup can take months, depending on the site.

At Enterprise South, for example, the U.S. Army cleanup cost has been estimated at $85 million and has taken two decades, though that may be considered an extreme case because of its size and scope of the work.

Wood said that companies often look at what he termed "a double bottom line" when evaluating potential sites. He said companies consider growing business from a dollar perspective as well as an environmental one.

For example, Wood said, companies may look at projects in terms of credits toward gaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

"This is another way to reach the certification level," he said about building on a former brownfield.

Wilson said that from the Chamber's perspective, it's looking for a variety of new inventory to show clients, and plans are to identify potential brownfield sites that might fit the bill.

"We're looking right now," Wilson said.

Additionally, the Chamber's initiative might fit with the business group's effort to help fashion a 40-year regional growth plan.

DeVaney said it's a challenge to find flat greenfield sites in Hamilton County because of its often hilly topography. Other nearby counties may have such potential industrial sites, he said.

"The cost of land in some rural areas is substantially less," DeVaney said.

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