By Carrie M. Staton
Since 2005, the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center (NBAC) at West Virginia University in Morgantown has worked with community stakeholders to promote economic development and environmental and public health protection through innovative redevelopment of brownfield sites.
Through its work on more than 60 projects in 32 WV communities, the Center is discovering several key components necessary to success on a project. By understanding two of these key components, collaboration and site control, groups working on the redevelopment of a site can generate significant momentum for their project. A project on an old pottery site in Chester, WV is doing just that.
The former Taylor Smith & Taylor (TS&T) Pottery site has been a source of misconception and frustration for the city of Chester and its citizens for many years. From 1900 to 1982, the site was the home of a pottery manufacturing company. After the pottery facility closed, the site was used primarily for the storage of liquid petroleum products, materials, and supplies related to a barge cleaning business that operated at this location on the Ohio River through the 1990s.
In the subsequent years, many misconceptions and rumors formed about the status of the site, due in part to a lack of information among community members and elected officials. These misconceptions and the resulting lack of trust culminated in 2010, when a company hired to demolish the buildings was discovered by officials to be using improper procedures for containing asbestos contamination. It was at this point, at the height of community distrust, that the Center became involved in the project.
Starts with Outreach
One of the first priorities of the Center’s involvement in any brownfields project is to engage the broad range of stakeholders potentially impacted by the project. In January of 2011, the Brooke Hancock Regional Planning and Development Council (BHRPDC) received funding through an NBAC grant to bring together local citizens, business owners, city officials, and property owners to form a Task Force with the goal of educating the public about the site and creating a redevelopment plan.
NBAC and the BHRPDC set their sights on discovering the facts of the project, rather than relying on the community folklore, a vital first step on any project. By contacting stakeholders individually at first, the Center was able to re-create a more accurate history of the site, and it determined that many assumptions held by various stakeholders were inaccurate.
Due to these conversations and the support of the BHRPDC and NBAC, the property owners became more engaged with the community on the prospects for the site, quickly realized the site’s potential, and began negotiations to sell the site for redevelopment. In July 2011, less than six months from the Center’s initial involvement, the site was purchased by the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle (BDC), a local economic development organization. This resolution of the issue of site control, a key component in redevelopment success, contributed significantly to project momentum.
At the same time that NBAC was tracking down the answers to vital site ownership questions, they were also working closely with the BHRPDC to engage community stakeholders and to encourage those stakeholders to work collaboratively on the project through the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee (RSRRC).
Through the RSRRC, stakeholders of all backgrounds and experience were invited to participate in open, public meetings where Center staff facilitated genuine discussion about the community’s vision for the future of the TS&T site. Having dispelled the many misconceptions about the site, its owners, and the future of the project, the RSRRC was ready to focus on the re-use of the site. The group met regularly throughout the winter and early spring to gather as much information about the site as it could, a process that ultimately led to the successful purchase of the property by the BDC. This was just the first of several successes the community groups achieved through collaboration.
Continues with A Vision
Building on the successful sale of the property, the RSRRC worked closely with the new owners to host a visioning workshop in October 2011. At this event, a diverse group of more than 50 community stakeholders worked together to discuss the progress at the site, identify the concerns of the local community, and develop a vision for the site’s future.
This visioning event showcased the importance and the potential for positive impact from collaboration on a complicated redevelopment project such as the one at TS&T. Although each of the key stakeholder groups has a different interest in the redevelopment of the site, they all recognize that their best chance at success lies in collaboration.
With the broad support of the community of Chester, the BDC has successfully pursued funding from local, state, and federal sources. In December 2011, the BDC received a grant from the NBAC that included technical assistance from a multi-disciplinary Brownfields Redevelopment Team of faculty experts assembled by the Center.
The team is currently collaborating with the BDC, the local community, and the NBAC to conduct feasibility studies and create a conceptual redevelopment design for the 9-acre site based on community input. The project also recently received a $200,000 low interest loan from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin by way of the WV Infrastructure Jobs and Development Council and a low interest loan of $500,000 from the Hancock County Commission to redevelop the derelict property.
To complete the funding package, the project received a $200,000 Cleanup Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the environmental remediation of the site in preparation for future development.
Since its start in January 2011, the collaboration has yielded many significant successes, including major developments on the issue of site control, as the project has consistently maintained momentum. The BDC is currently demolishing the derelict buildings and moving forward on the cleanup of the site, working in close collaboration with community stakeholders toward their shared dream of a revitalized riverfront property.
Carrie M. Staton is with the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center