From Abandoned to Amazing: How Conover Station Came to Be

Photo collage of before and after redevelopment of Conover Station
Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 4:23pm

Nestled between the cities of Hickory, Newton and Claremont, Conover is one of the most easily accessible cities in the Charlotte Metro region. With nearly 8,300 people living there, Conover is a hub of innovation and opportunity.

Once a beacon of manufacturing, the site that now houses Conover Station used to manufacture gloves to axe handles to furniture. The City of Conover faced a period of reinvention following the 2005 closure of the 26-acre property downtown property that housed the Broyhill Furniture manufacturing plant. Like many abandoned manufacturing or industrial facilities, the property became a fenced, abandoned eyesore. Worse, though, was the leftover environmental contamination.

The City of Conover saw an opportunity to redevelop the area. The result: Conover Station.

The North Carolina Brownfields Program partnered with the City of Conover to create a thriving development for the future.

Realizing Conover’s Vision for the Future

In 2005, the City of Conover decided to purchase the 26-acre abandoned property and redevelop it – initially as a mixed used development. They worked with consultants, the Western Piedmont Council of Governments and N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (formerly N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to expand the vision and create additional opportunities.

The site had petroleum and volatile organic contamination in soil and groundwater from years of underground and aboveground storage tanks usage, with product lines that coursed underground and through the buildings. Since the city did not cause the contamination, the site was eligible as a brownfields property through the state’s Brownfields Program.

What is the Brownfields Program?

The Brownfields Program works with prospective developers who did not cause or contribute to contamination of an abandoned or unused property they wish to redevelop. Prospective developers of these properties are offered defined, limited environmental liability through a brownfields agreement. The agreement identifies measures that the prospective developer must conduct to make the property safe for the proposed reuse.

“The City and the many partners involved are to be commended for this project,” said Bruce Nicholson, manager of the state’s Brownfields Program. “It is a great example of how local vision can come together with resources from all levels to transform a brownfield property. It’s a win-win for both economic development and the environment.”

With more than $8 million in grants from sources like the N.C. Department of Transportation, Clean Water Management Trust Fund, N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and EPA clean up through Land of Sky Regional Council’s Revolving Loan Fund, the City began redeveloping the site in 2010.

  • First, they transformed the Warlong Glove building into a multi-modal center for future passenger rail service and foot traffic access into lovely downtown Conover. It now also includes a library, the NC Works Career Center and community room.
  • Two years later, the new Manufacturing Solutions Center opened. It provides new and existing companies with a low-cost testing facility for research and development, allowing small businesses to conduct testing and put their ideas into production. The facility also houses a business accelerator, which offers space for entrepreneurs to cultivate innovation.
  • Nearly seven acres became a Conover Station Park. The park includes walking trails, a nature-inspired playground complete with climbing rocks, open space, splash pad and an open-air pavilion. The park also has an engineered wetland tied to McLin Creek that treats urban storm water runoff and features an educational kiosk on the water cycle and water quality. Conover Station Park became the city’s largest public park and helps anchor a portion of the Carolina Thread Trail.
  • Most recently, a 38,000 square-foot space was built to house an advanced fitness center that includes future restaurant space.

“The N.C. Brownfield Program has been integral to the redevelopment of the Conover Station site,” said Lance Hight, planning director for the City of Conover. “The brownfield designation has given us the ability to market the site and provide a level of comfort to private developers. We have cited the brownfield designation on numerous grant applications, and to date, have been successful in obtaining more than $8 million in funding for buildings, parks, infrastructure and environmental remediation. The staff administering the Brownfields Program are knowledgeable and have been great to work with.”

For more about Conover Station, go to: http://www.conoverstation.com/. To learn about the N.C. Brownfields Program, go to: https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/waste-management/bf.

Author: 
Laura J. Leonard