EPA leader's St. Cloud visit cites City Hall, old Tech in touting grant funding
St. Cloud Times
September 28, 2020
ST. CLOUD — Midday Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator stood in the dark auditorium of the former Tech High School. Why? It's a little about what it is, and a lot about what it could be.
Andrew Wheeler, head of the EPA and member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet, stopped in St. Cloud to highlight three locations that have benefitted from the EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant program, which aims to help communities clean up and reuse contaminated properties.
Monday's tour highlighted the former Technical High School at 233-12th Ave. S as well as City Hall at 400 Second St. S and a 6-acre site near Cooper Avenue and Division Street. Between them, work on these three sites used approximately $143,000 of $400,000 awarded from the EPA in 2016 for its Brownfields Assessment Program. The remaining funding was allocated to other projects in the city.
Brownfields Assessment Grants can be used for planning, environmental assessments and community outreach.
Wheeler said one reason he stopped in St. Cloud as part of his time in Minnesota is the city's use of Brownfields funding for repurposing existing buildings.
"I love the aspect of turning an older building, reusing it and not tearing it down, and so that was one of the reasons I wanted to come here today because I knew they were doing that with the old school, turning it into the new City Hall," Wheeler said.
The Division Street-and-Cooper Avenue site is primed for redevelopment as well after an electrical substation, which Kleis said was hindering redevelopment, was removed.
"No developer would ever add that cost to remove it," he said.
It is considered a catalyst site, or an underutilized space where development could significantly impact the Division Street corridor. Brownfields funding was used to assess the buildings and soil of the 10 properties and the substation that previously stood there, Glaesman said.
Some of the St. Cloud sites utilizing Brownfields grants, including City Hall, also fall inside opportunity zones — low-income areas where investors can be eligible for economic development incentives — which Kleis said work together well and serves as an asset for the city.
"I will use this (trip to St. Cloud) to talk to other communities around the country about what they can use Brownfields money for and how they can partner on the opportunity zones as well," Wheeler said.
Wheeler's stop in St. Cloud was one of a handful in the state. While in Minnesota, he also announced that the EPA awarded $731,893 to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Brownfields Program. Over the past five years, more than $7 million in Brownfields grants have been awarded to 11 communities and Minnesota state agencies, according to press release from the EPA.
"Ultimately what our Brownfields money really brings to bear … is the courage to invest. A lot of times it's the unknowns, the things that stand in the way of development," said Kurt Thiede, EPA regional administrator overseeing Minnesota.
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