Expiring brownfield legislation requires immediate action

September 24, 2012
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As tourists and residents from across the region come to downtown Grand Rapids this week to admire the components and concept of ArtPrize, they also are enjoying the extensive renovations and continued renaissance of the buildings acting as venues and offering services.

One of the most celebrated building reuses (at least in terms of tourist draw) is The B.O.B., which annually shows more than 100 types of art indoors and out, and generally attracts 2,000 to 3,000 visitors per day of the 10-day event.

Recall that the Big Old Building was the shell of what was, at one time in the city’s history, a warehouse. The Gilmore Group dreamed every aspect of the entertainment complex and plans still more additions to what it created as a key component of the downtown entertainment scene.

The renovation ignited several similar reuses in a domino effect that is the foundation for continued growth. It serves as only one, comparatively small, investment in the city’s ability to realize revitalization and sustainable buildings.

Michigan’s Brownfield Redevelopment Act has been key to many of these projects. The fact that the legislation offering tax credits for such redevelopment is very near its expiration is unacceptable — not only for Grand Rapids but across the state (see story on page 3).

Prior to the brownfield legislation, such adaptive reuse was not considered viable because of liabilities in restoring significantly old buildings. The Berkey and Gay Furniture Co. building restoration that resulted in the apartment/office complex called The Boardwalk is another example, one that detailed the significant obstacles in ground and water contamination left behind by lumber barons. Contaminants included serious lead, mercury and other chemical poisons.

The cost drivers that often made such reuse impossible not only included the cost of contaminant removal but also threat of lawsuits. Long-gone original owners could not be held responsible, and it fell instead to any new owner of such property.

Such opportunities to remediate and make sites safe for entire populations — especially in the older urban areas of Michigan — have been significant to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as well as those responsible for environmental quality.

Tax credits from the brownfield legislation have created possibilities where none existed. Legislators, however, appear lethargic in recognizing the fundamental importance of extending the Act and that “business as usual” cannot be tolerated in the short time such action is needed.

Economic development teams are counting on State Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, to move legislation through his chamber. He may need the encouragement of the business community to force feed the lackadaisical leadership now preoccupied with elections rather than the continued economic development of the state.

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