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From Flint To Detroit: Changing The Narrative About Brownfields In Michigan

From Flint to Detroit: Changing the narrative about brownfields in Michigan

From Flint to Detroit: Changing the narrative about brownfields in Michigan

Few properties better capture what a brownfield site means to a community than Flint ’s Buick City, Michigan. The former home of General Motors’ massive automobile manufacturing complex, a once bustling property that employed thousands, has sat vacant for more than a decade. Final operations ceased in 2010 following a gradual decline, yet today, there’s renewed optimism as a developer recently broke ground on the site. Brownfield and former Buick City Site, 350 acres, Flint, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Regional Partnership) In a 100-year legacy industry region like south-east Michigan, there is no shortage of these sites, which is leading to expanded efforts to change the narrative and help developers assess the opportunities and trade-offs of brownfield sites. In Flint, there’s a $300m investment by New York -based real estate firm Ashley Capital paired with local and regional support to rejuvenate this key site as the Flint Commerce Center. The project is expected to provide up to ten buildings, 3,000 new jobs, and 3.5 million square feet of Class A industrial space to tenants at build-out. While not all properties are as vast as the 353-acre former Buick City site, they are numerous throughout the region and offer tremendous opportunities. Unfortunately, too often, the negative narrative and misperceptions around brownfields deter developers, end users and site consultants from sites that can deliver exactly what they are looking for at a time when industrial sites are at a premium and speculative development offers a path forward. The post-pandemic industrial economy is being shaped by a strong reshoring push, historic investment in electric vehicle and battery production, and the proliferation of e-commerce distribution sites that have led to a shortage of sites. The result is a red-hot industrial market that is giving new life to many brownfields. Cities and regions that work together to market these sites and help developers, end users and site consultants understand the advantages will be positioned to land transformational projects and bring jobs and investment to their communities. Brownfields’ advantages don’t fade, they Far outweigh the negatives While brownfield sites come with environmental challenges, the advantages of these sites far outweigh the negatives. No matter how the global economy has changed since a particular brownfield bustled with activity, the core advantages that made that brownfield site attractive for industrial use remain the same. Brownfields are strategically placed in communities and regions with access to highways and transportation infrastructure and close proximity to housing and talent. Buick City, for instance, is five miles north of Flint’s GM Assembly Plant and Bishop International Airport with access to I-475, I-69, and I-75. Another potential industrial campus – a ten-acre parcel on Detroit ’s famed Fort Street, is located near the future Gordie Howe International Bridge with easy entry to I-75, I-96, and M-10. These two sites are strategically located in the world’s densest automotive and mobility industry cluster with one of the most dynamic supply chains – that’s a huge advantage to a company looking to expand in the North American market. The key role of heat network integration in creating one of London’s most sustainable buildings The role of green bonds in financing the urban energy transition The need to grow London’s EV infrastructure at speed and scale Location, however, is not the only advantage. While greenfields may seem like a safer choice , there is no discounting the previous investment that positioned brownfields as hubs of commerce. The best example is established access to electricity and water. Connecting to utilities is a costly proposition incurred when selecting a greenfield over a brownfield. Targeted incentives make brownfields more appealing in Michigan There is often additional local, state and federal funding available to help offset the environmental challenges. For instance, a recently passed Michigan law doubled the cap within the state’s brownfield development program – from a $40m annual cap for captured income and withholding revenues to an $80m cap annually. The now $800m total limit on captured income has doubled to $1.6bn – allowing developers to keep income and withhold taxes from people residing or working within those sites. That reflects a growing recognition of the need for a more concerted effort to develop brownfields. From October 2021 to July 2023, 51 sites in Michigan were approved for brownfield incentives through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Those sites are expected to improve 5.5 million square feet of industrial space. For the rest of this fiscal year and 2024, there are expected to be an additional 44 brownfield […]

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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