Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Yesterday we featured an aerial image of a part of north city where most of the original building stock is intact. Today we will examine the opposite situation. Many of the neighborhoods on the north side are well preserved. However, there is no question that parts have seen significant building loss.
The aerial above provides a good example. In this area there are multiple blocks entirely devoid of any buildings, and some with only a few remaining. Of those still standing, frequently they are vacant and substantially deteriorated. In these areas, other than the original street grid, the rest of the historic neighborhood context is lost.
What is unseen is the reality on the ground. Or better put, under the ground. People refer to greenfield and brownfield developments. These areas meet the definition of brownfield.
As described in the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association Roadmap report on Brownfield redevelopment, in the broadest sense, a brownfield is defined as "real estate that has been rendered either underutilized or completely unusable due to the existence - or mere threat - of environmental contamination".
For years, when demolished, abandoned buildings were collapsed into their basements and covered with a thin layer of soil. To redevelop these sites requires thousands of dollars in site excavation and possible environmental remediation. The high cost to return these parcels into buildable sites often results in net negative land value.
However, despite the real costs of redevelopment, landowners aren't likely to pay developers to purchase their lands. As a result, this unworkable economic reality has removed the bottom from the real estate market, leaving, as we have seen, brownfield sites in the heart of our city vacant for years.
Not unlike the historic tax credit for rehabilitating historic buildings, a tax credit program for land assembly, designed to offset some of the upfront costs of returning abandoned properties to productive reuse, has the potential to be one part of an overall community redevelopment program.