By Rosanne Albright
Persistence, perseverance and tenacity are required attributes for success in the field of real estate development. Multiply these by 10 when you are working to clean up and redevelop former industrial sites that have left behind toxic waste, unpaid property taxes, and blight in a neighborhood as the result of abandonment and bankruptcy. The city of Phoenix reached out to federal, state, county and local government agencies to ask for help and it was that collaboration that proved to the private sector that redevelopment of this complex site was possible and profitable.
The Fifth Street & Buckeye Road Project is the poster child for brownfields redevelopment. The history of the site reads like a great mystery novel that is solved by characters from many different places, with twists and turns and roadblocks throughout the 30-year history of the property. The story begins with the property being used for auto shredding and salvage operations in the 1970s and early 1980s, a time when environmental regulations were in their infancy. The operation included dismantling cars and placing the material – affectionately referred to as “fluff” – in the ground, the same way you might create a landfill. Also, transformers containing PCBs (a carcinogen) were dismantled and salvaged at the property. When the ground below the surface was filled up on the 10-acre property, fluff piles were created on top of the surface, some 18 feet high.
Then in 1986, the owner of the property filed bankruptcy and walked away, leaving the hazardous fluff behind. It was a call about criminal activity that brought the Phoenix Police Department to the site, who then contacted the city’s Office of Environmental Programs to ask whether the site was safe to enter. Quick research by environmental staff indicated that there was a high potential for hazardous substances to be on the ground and police were outfitted in protective gear to enter the property.
The site was fenced and in 1998, with the arrival of the federal Brownfields Redevelopment initiative, city staff asked for help from the Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Arizona Department of Health Services, and Maricopa County. These agencies worked together to conduct environmental investigations, cleaned up surface waste, placed a protective cap to prevent exposure to the hazardous waste, and addressed delinquent property taxes to bring this property back into productive use.
Harrison Properties purchased the property in 2006 through a county auction and approached the city for assistance in 2014. “We have a strong commitment to the inner city industrial market and are pleased that we have transformed these 10 acres into a modern industrial complex,” said Jim Harrison, owner and developer, Harrison Properties. The city of Phoenix provided a $250,000 grant from the Brownfields Program to help offset the additional costs related to the environmental conditions of the property as well as technical assistance during construction of the site. A special unit of the Phoenix Police Department is a tenant onsite, and it is befitting that they now occupy space in the new development that they visited years earlier.
Innovative construction methods using helical piers were used to build safely on top of the protective cap with minimal disturbance to the hazardous waste below the surface. Harrison also commissioned local artist, Joe Willie Smith, to design a sculpture that depicts the history of the site and the challenging building conditions; a perfect homage to the restoration of this once blighted, hazardous property into an economic development success story.
Main photo: From left to right. David Rousseau, Cody Williams, Kenny Harris, Mindy Clements, Jim Harrison, Kate Gallego, Laura Malone, Rosanne Albright.
For more information on the Phoenix Brownfields Land Recycling Program, visit phoenix.gov/oep/environment/brownfields.
Rosanne Albright, Program Manager, Brownfields & Food Systems, has 19 years of experience managing the $4 million, municipally-funded Phoenix Brownfields Land Recycling Program, which has cleaned up and redeveloped over 300 acres, created 3,000 jobs, and realized $325 million in private investment. She has secured more than $2.5 million in EPA brownfields grants, including the Brownfields to Healthfields Project, focused on the integration of brownfields redevelopment, food, and health.
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