Cities founded on the backbone of manufacturing face similar dilemmas when it comes to aging and sometimes dilapidated buildings that now sit empty.
A new program from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) offers a possible solution to municipalities such as Thomasville that would like to see these old buildings either come back to life or make way for something else entirely.
Paul Kron, PTRC regional director, on Monday night presented City Council with a blueprint of the Brownfield Assessment Coalition grant his organization obtained last October. The three-year, $600,000 grant is designed to help cities identify and potentially reuse sites in an effort to make them productive again. With many former furniture and manufacturing plants in Thomasville collecting more dust than money, Kron said the grant could help the city and the property owners find new investors.
“These are often idle or abandoned sites, no longer on tax rolls and no jobs associated with them anymore,” Kron said. “Over the last 15 years, we've lost almost 100,000 manufacturing jobs alone, many have been in Thomasville and Lexington and other midsize mill towns. The underlying goal of this program is to identify a few of these sites that have the highest potential for some type of redesign or reuse. We're particularly interested in identifying potential buyers and developers.”
Thomasville, along with Archdale, Jamestown, Trinity, Lexington and Greensboro, all are included in the coalition of cities eligible for funds through the program. Once sites are identified within the city, grants funds can be used to conduct Phase 1 and Phase 2 environmental site assessments on the property to determine if any pollution or contamination has occurred in the water or soil. The studies also include chronicling the history of the property's ownership and what its uses have been in the past. Being able to identify any potential issues with a property and how to deal with them creates a higher probability that the site could be sold and reused.
“This truly is the first step in somewhat acquiring the property and reusing an old manufacturing facility,” said City Manager Kelly Craver. “We're talking to property owners to see where they stand.”
During his presentation to council Kron identified seven Thomasville sites being considered for the program – Thomasville Furniture Industries (TFI) Plant L at 13 E. Guilford St., TFI Plant D at 801 Trinity St., TFI Plant C at 405 E. Main St., TFI Plant A at 320 W. Main St., TFI Plant B at 310 Fisher Ferry St., the Patterson building at 1020 Randolph St. and the Components Concepts building at 200 Mason Way.
Prioritizing the list revolves around which facility is the best possible candidate for reuse.
“Those are low-hanging fruit, the ones that very obviously are old and under-utilized” Craver said. “There may be some there that just may not have a lot of hope for. Certainly, we'd like to pick the ones that had the most likelihood for reuse, whether as housing, retail or some other commercial use. You want to spend the money where you have the highest likelihood of a reuse.”
Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies can cost thousands of dollars depending on the amount of environmental issues that are present. Once a property is designated a “Brownfield,” grant funds pay for the assessments and also open the door for potentially more funding to help clean-up the site. Property owners receive a letter of agreement, which absolves a future owner of any liability issues.
“It's a huge marketing opportunity for Thomasville and these other cities with so many of these sites,” said Kron. “It's huge in the sense that it sends out a big signal to developers and folks who are interested in these types of projects to say we've done all of our homework, we know what the issues are, we've got a clean bill of health and letter of agreement from the state that if you buy this property you won't be liable.”
Two key components to the program are redeveloping these sites to remove any environmental risks to the public and making them attractive for future investors.
"The purpose is to address environmental issues up front so a deal can get done and the property can be reused, put back on the tax records and jobs can be created,” Kron said. “Our highest priority will go to sites where someone has said they really had an interest but are worried about the environmental issues or questions.”
Craver said Plant C's location on Main Street makes it attractive for a potential reuse whereas Plant B, where four of the 7-acre plot lies in a floodplain and the facility is dilapidated, may be better served as a walking park one day.
“The building that is there can not be saved, I believe, and you certainly could at a very low cost create a walking trail/passage park with a stream running through it,” Craver said. “That's a fairly high gain with a very low cost for a reuse of that type of property.”
The Brownfield program is run through the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.