Mar 19, 2014
Spotlight on Milwaukee: Industrial Center and Community Park is Model of Sustainable Redevelopment
Posted by: rita
When the City of Milwaukee took a hard look at Wisconsin's most notorious brownfield - a 140-acre former manufacturing site, in the 100-year floodplain and smack in the middle of the city - it seemed like a crazy idea to purchase the site and take control of its redevelopment. This part of the Menomonee River Valley was marsh until the late 1870s. From 1879 to 1985, Milwaukee Road Shops built rail cars and locomotives and was one of the largest employers in Milwaukee. After declaring bankruptcy, the company closed in 1985, leaving dozens of vacant and dilapidated buildings and 140 acres of contaminated land in the middle of the city. When the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) purchased the site in 2003, the site had been abandoned for 18 years. Consequently, making the site work ecologically, economically and socially presented a huge challenge and economic risk.
The Menomonee Valley Industrial Center and Community Park is the most recent crowning achievement of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM). According to David Misky, a member of NALGEP’s Board of Directors and RACM’s Executive Secretary, "The Menomonee Valley project typifies the challenges faced by cities around the country where creative initiatives are essential to convert a 140-acre brownfield into a sustainable redevelopment that factors in economic, social, and environmental impacts. The Redevelopment Authority was used as a tool to tackle one of the most challenging real estate projects in Milwaukee’s history."
The RACM has a strong track record of successfully leveraging federal, state, and local funding to meet the financial needs of all stages of brownfields redevelopment. RACM has been exceedingly fortunate to receive more than $17 million in brownfield grant funding from the USEPA over the past 11 years. At the state level, RACM has leveraged more than $14 million of state grant funds to fill in funding gaps since 2000. Locally, Milwaukee regularly uses tax incremental financing districts (TIFs) to support brownfield projects and provide needed funding for remediation and site closure submittals.
Loans - Since 2002, RACM has provided 13 brownfield revolving loans resulting in $378 million of investment and 3,500 projected jobs to be created or retained. These 13 loans have helped in remediating more than 266 acres making them ready for development.
Assessment - RACM has utilized its USEPA Assessment Funds on more than 75 different properties that are in various stages of testing. Nineteen of these properties totaling 67 acres have been redeveloped resulting in obtaining environmental site closure. Redevelopment projects have been completed resulting in approximately $120 million of redevelopment and retention or creation of more than 700 jobs.
Cleanup - RACM has been awarded USEPA Cleanup Grants for 27 specific sites to date; with cleanups completed at 15 of the 27 sites and cleanup activities continue to proceed at the remaining 12 sites. Risks to human health have been reduced on approximately 60 acres. $12.6 million of investment has occurred and will increase as more proposed projects break ground.
After considering all of RACM’s accomplishments, it seems inevitable that the RACM and its partners would transform the most notorious and intractable brownfields site in Wisconsin into the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center and Community Park. Yet people involved in the earliest stages of the project could never have been so confident in predicting success. Fortunately, the project has given the RACM financial strength, experience, confidence, prestige and momentum for successful projects in the future.