For the past couple of weeks the community buzz has been deafening over the announcement by Whirlpool Corporation that it will construct a new $120 million manufacturing plant just a short seven miles from the existing factory — parts of which have stood for almost a century, and one building’s history is even longer.
The new 1.4 million-square-foot facility, to be energy-efficient and LEEDS-certified, will include the plant and an accompanying distribution center. It will be located on a 120-acre site near the corner of Benton Pike and Michigan Avenue Road.
The Cleveland City Council is in the middle of annexing the property. The action passed on preliminary reading a week ago and will be considered again for a final vote Sept. 27.
But what about the existing Whirlpool Cleveland Division factory that sits on about 80 to 90 acres and includes multiple buildings, just a few of which are three manufacturing plants (Plant 1 East, Plant 1 West and Plant 2), a warehouse and other support buildings? This is the other half of the excitement, according to Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and who works closely with the Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board.
“This could be the biggest redevelopment strategy the community has ever gone through,” Berry said.
That’s where the Brownfields program enters the scene.
The city of Cleveland, through its Community Development Program, is applying for a $500,000 grant from the EPA division. If it is approved, the grant would allow the city to bring in professionals who have worked in past Brownfields Program redevelopments. These planners, environmental consultants and other engineering professionals would work closely with city staff, the company and others to begin a methodical analysis of the existing Whirlpool manufacturing site.
Brownfields is a term that has been used for years by major manufacturers who regularly analyze the benefits of refurbishing or expanding existing factories, as compared to building new plants — which, by contrast, is described as a “greenfields” approach.
Although Berry has worked closely for the past several months with Whirlpool, local government leaders and the Industrial Development Board on strategies for the new cooking products plant, he said the city’s community development staff — led by director Greg Thomas — will lead the charge in redeveloping the existing manufacturing site with Whirlpool leaders, Cleveland Municipal Planning Commission representatives and community residents.
Berry will remain involved throughout the redevelopment.
Groundbreaking for the new plant is expected to occur in mid-October and production should begin sometime in early 2012. It will take the company longer to completely move out of all the buildings, but in the meantime, Berry explained, the planning process will be under way to identify alternatives for redevelopment.
“ ... We will work with Whirlpool to analyze the structures for potential use,” Berry said. This includes developing a potential strategy for getting the buildings back into the market. However, if structural age, deterioration and historical use stand in the way of marketing the site, then planners will consider other options. One such alternative includes building demolition and site preparation for new uses.
This is when site potential becomes unlimited.
“Any number of things ... could be considered,” Berry said. Just a few might be parks, housing, retail centers, public facilities and others, he added. It is expected that public meetings will be a part of site redevelopment planning.
Berry pointed out the industrial site is large enough that its redevelopment will impact surrounding areas; hence, the need for community input.
Over the next couple of years, Whirlpool leaders will have two focuses in Cleveland. One will be construction, and completion, of the new factory. The second will be a close involvement with the community in redeveloping the existing site, Berry said.
“They (Whirlpool) will need to be involved to understand community expectations,” he offered. “ ... Ultimately, the community and the company will have to come to terms with what we’ve got and what we’re going to do with it.”
Redevelopment of existing sites is as much a part of economic development as the construction of new buildings, the long-time Chamber of Commerce professional explained. An important component of redeveloping the Whirlpool site will be understanding how it has been used for the past century and what types of uses would be an appropriate fit for the community, Berry said. This is the type of information that a Brownfields-funded study will produce.
According to an EPA website, the Brownfields Program was developed in 1995. Its intent is to assist in the cleanup and redevelopment of existing industrial sites in order to promote community development and enhance quality of life, and job opportunities, in those areas.
“EPA’s Brownfields Program is designed to empower states, communities and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse brownfields,” the website explains.
EPA estimates some 450,000 brownfields exist in the U.S.
“Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and improves and protects the environment,” the website states.
Another Brownfields Program advantage is its role in helping to clean up sites that might have included hazardous pollutants or contaminants. Since its inception, the Brownfields Program has leveraged 65,000 jobs nationwide. Research has shown brownfields redevelopment creates 47 to 62 percent less stormwater runoff as compared to completely new developments, and that brownfields projects increase neighboring residential property values by 2 to 3 percent.