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Land Revitalization Winter '10 Newsletter – Scraps to Scrubs: A Visual Journey

"We were impressed by the practical approach the DEQ (Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality) took in partnering with us on the cleanup of one of the worst areas in Roanoke. We couldn't be more pleased with the results."
-- Curtis Mills
Executive Vice President, Carilion Clinic

The following images take you on a photographic journey of a revitalization success story occurring in south central Virginia. Through the combined tenacity and creativity of a group of public and private stakeholders, large portions of land throughout the Roanoke area are getting a new lease on life. In this particular case, a bleak auto scrap yard was assessed, cleaned and redeveloped into the Commonwealth’s newest pride and joy -- Virginia Tech’s world-renowned Carilion Medical Center

Article compiled by EPA Region 3 Brownfields & Land Revitalization Branch and Meade Anderson, Virginia Brownfields Program.

The City of Roanoke has seen its share of tough times over the past several decades. After years of industrial use and misuse, it was estimated in the early 2000s that 75 percent of the land in the South Jefferson area of Roanoke alone was blighted and underused, littered with brownfield properties ranging from auto scrap yards (pictured right) to unused, post-industrial land. A constant social and economic stressor on this small Virginia community, the threat of property contamination kept prospective purchasers at bay, while chipping away at community pride. Brownfields Property a Auto Scrap Yard.
Once a booming economic hub thanks to its ideal location along the Roanoke River, coupled with its enviable position as a railway and industrial leader in the Commonwealth, the City of Roanoke, pictured just 10 years ago, suffered the same fate that hundreds of small towns throughout the nation endured when their industrial heydays came to an end. By the 1980s, as traditional industries began shutting down, the city's population was in decline, with poverty rates for some neighborhoods reaching up to 50 percent. Fast forward to the mid-1990s, when things began to look up once again. With land reuse and brownfields now emerging as part of our national conversation, and the 2002 passing of brownfields legislation, city planners began to see opportunity where others saw blight. Photo of City of Roanoke from 10 years ago.
While initial work focused on redeveloping individual properties, savvy decision-makers started to take a more holistic approach to revitalizing the City of Roanoke. State and local planners began to expand their focus to designate larger areas of land needing attention, including the South Jefferson Redevelopment Area.They applied for a wide variety of funding from both public and private sources, and they involved local community members in the process. And, like most communities with redevelopment successes under their proverbial belts, they knew that to revitalize effectively, they had to approach each project with a specific outcome in mind. A scrap yard like the one pictured, for instance, was approached with preliminary plans to become commercial and medical development. Pictured are local planners and contractors surveying a mountain of scrap metal, neglected for years and covered in vegetation. Photo of a scrap yard.
Plans for a new medical center were now in the works at the corner of South Jefferson and Reserve Avenues, thanks to federal, state and local stakeholder support and funding. Once a scrap metal operation, this property was one of the many abandoned lots in the old South Roanoke industrial district. In early 2000, it became part of a larger parcel of land that has since been targeted for the city's most ambitious redevelopment project yet – a 30-acre biomedical park. Assessment and cleanup activities have since been conducted in a phased approach, and made possible through a wide range of funding support. EPA, for instance, has provided $1.8 million to Roanoke through the Agency's competitive brownfields grant program designed to help communities develop reuse plans, pinpoint, assess and clean underused, stigmatized properties. Specifically, EPA contributed $200,000 to cleanup properties in the area, and $1.6 million to use for brownfields redevelopment in general.
As Roanoke planners know, funding alone is not enough. Redevelopment is achieved through stakeholder support. Armed with this knowledge, the City worked with state university Virginia Tech; the privately-funded Carilion Clinic and Carilion Biomedical Institutes, and Roanoke's Redevelopment and Housing Authority to push this project forward. They targeted a large parcel of land littered with underused and/or contaminated parcels in the South Jefferson Redevelopment Area and conceived one of the state's most dramatic redevelopment projects to date - a bio-medical business park. This ambitious redevelopment project, announced in 2000, would generate high-tech industry and jobs in the area. Early in the planning, the private sector Carilion Health System signed on to fund a portion of the project, which is pictured in the rendering to the right. Early in the process, the entire site was divided into six parcels, each needing extensive remediation and subsequently addressed through the state's Voluntary Remediation Program. Today, much progress has been made, with five of the six parcels now clean, and project partners wholly pleased. Curtis Mills, Executive Vice President of the Carilion Clinic, emphasized that working with the state and through its VRP, "…we were able to put this property back into use as a new and more productive site for medical, educational and research projects." Carilion Health System plan for Riverside Center
Virginia's newest medical school welcomed its inaugural class earlier this year at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine at the intersection of South Jefferson and Reserve Avenues, one of the many institutions that will ultimately find a home here in this evolving redevelopment zone. The excitement is palpable, after almost ten years of intense planning, assessment, cleanup and construction. Business, however, has not eclipsed environmentalism in this project. The school is planning for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification; local materials used in the construction, and close to 80 percent of the construction trash was recycled.  Cleanup for the parcel pictured comprised soil removal and offsite disposal; capping and institutional controls. And today, as the final of six parcels is remediated, the Carilion Clinic is working towards the overarching development of a campus-style facility which includes buildings for research, education and hospital care. Curtis Mills, Executive Vice President of the Carilion Clinic, applauded this private-public working relationship, when he said, "We were impressed by the practical approach the DEQ (Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality) took in partnering with us on the cleanup of one of the worst areas in Roanoke. We couldn't be more pleased with the results." Photo of one of the new buildings on the site.
One of the first recipients of EPA's newest brownfield grants, Roanoke was recently awarded up to $175,000 to further develop an area-wide approach to redeveloping the city. EPA's newest brownfields funding, totaling $4 million, was awarded to 23 under-served and/or economically disadvantaged communities nationwide to focus on area-wide revitalization. Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, points out that communities impacted by multiple brownfield sites are often in most need of an area-wide, as opposed to a site specific, approach. He added during the grant's recent announcement that this funding will also help facilitate "identifying and leveraging local, state, and federal investment to implement the plans." Here in Roanoke, local officials continue to leverage stakeholder investment in the Riverside Center while they also address the final parcel of land in this property that needs cleanup. The focus has now shifted to further developing the complex and finding tenants, as well as applying their (up to) $175,000 in area-wide grant funding. Walking into the bustling Virginia Tech- Carilion, one immediately feels a heightened sense of engagement and enthusiasm to affect change -- a perfect start to Roanoke's revitalization renaissance. Photo of the site as it now looks.

To learn more about redevelopment of brownfields in your area and to register for the much-anticipated Brownfields 2011 National Conference in Philadelphia this April, visit Brownfields 2011

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

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