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Land Revitalization Summer '10 Newsletter – Lowe's grand opening at once-abandoned Virginia tannery

Pictured is an employee putting final touches on the parking lot.

From brownfields blight to home beautification- The home improvement store has 117,000 square feet of retail sales space, with an adjacent garden center, stocking 40,000 different items to help customers build, improve and beautify their homes. A store of this size represents an average investment in the community of approximately $18.5 million and creates up to 175 new jobs.

Revitalization thanks to hard work with that small-town touch

By Lena Kim, EPA Region 3 Community Involvement & Outreach Branch

In the mid-1980’s, an American home improvement chain called Lowe’s picked up on the emergence of a specific type of do-it-yourself homeowner seeking to improve the value of his property. This realization, coupled with the old-fashioned, small-town work ethic of its founder, a North Carolinian named Carl Buchan, was the start of a period of rapid growth for the home improvement chain.

Yet this growth, Lowe’s management emphasized, would not come at the expense of cultivating a neighborhood feel in every store.

Moving northward to Virginia, and overlapping in time frames with Lowe’s dramatic expansion, the City of Salem was enjoying a renaissance of its own. After a period of post-industrial stagnation that many small U.S. towns were undergoing, citizens of Salem were applying their own old-fashioned work ethic to transform this once-sleepy town into a socio-economic force just west of its larger neighbor, Roanoke.

Over the past years, Salem residents have seen the construction of a grand civic center, hospital, schools, museum, stadium, and even a visitor’s center, helping to establish the city as one of the Commonwealth’s most progressive towns. And, similar to Lowe’s mantra of a maintaining a neighborhood feel even during periods of growth, the City of Salem is intent on revitalizing while maintaining its small town, “neighborhood-y” vibe.

Add to Salem’s renaissance a truly scenic location nestled between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains  in the Shenandoah Valley, and its ongoing transformation and inherent ‘prettiness’ continue to get noticed by others… most recently, by Lowe’s.

So it would seem fitting that in 2010 a brand-new Lowe’s retail store with its now familiar white, blue and red façade has recently celebrated its grand opening upon a once-abandoned West Salem property, furthering both parties’ continued success.

One small-town American success story meets up with another. Before we go any further, we’ll let these photos tell the story…

former tannery site The former tannery site epitomized the concept of “brownfield”-
Once home to the local Leas and McVitty Tannery, a business that helped define Salem in past centuries. After the tannery burned down, the property was used as an industrial salvage facility where scrap metal obtained from various sources was stored and lead was recovered from batteries. The property was a picture-perfect, brownfield poster child- neglected, contaminated, and stigmatized. Pictured here are where vats were removed at the site of the old tannery.

Another view of where the vats were removed at the site of the old tannery. Federal, state, and local activity to address a contaminated property-
This brownfield property had seen it all. Lead contaminated soils prompted an EPA emergency removal action in the 1990s; subsequent follow-up investigations, state-lead cleanup through VADEQ’s Voluntary Remediation Program, groundwater & sediment sampling, and seemingly countless meetings between numerous stakeholders- nothing new for those working in the world of brownfields redevelopment. However, the tenacity of Salem citizens, support from local and state officials, and a location along the Roanoke River, continues to provide Salem its revitalization momentum.

Lowes store under construction. Lowes comes to the City of Salem- An American super-store focused on preserving its 'neighborhood' roots gets constructed in a small American city dedicated to expansion while still maintaining its 'small-town' vibe.

Salem Councilman Bill Jones takes part in Lowe's traditional "board cutting" ceremony on grand opening day. Salem Councilman Bill Jones takes part in Lowe's traditional "board cutting" ceremony on grand opening day. City of Salem Manager Kevin Boggess pointed out, "Salem is incredibly fortunate that we managed to get in under the wire with Lowe’s. There is no question we were right on the edge of the recession and that we could have lost this particular investment in our city. The developer of the property put forth a lot of effort to keep Lowe’s locked in as a tenant, and the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality worked with us throughout what was a very complicated and eye-opening process."

Salem Councilman Bill Jones takes part in Lowe's traditional "board cutting" ceremony on grand opening day. Opening day purchases at the new Salem Lowe's supports Habitat for Humanity- Through the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, the retail giant incorporates community-based initiatives at its over 1,675 stores in North America. As part of its Salem, Virginia grand opening, Lowe’s matched purchases up to $5,000 to support Roanoke Valley’s Habitat for Humanity program.

Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Brownfields & Land Revitalization

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