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North Carolina’s Brownfields Program celebrates 20 years of recycling abandoned properties

Raleigh, NC

Since 1997, the North Carolina Brownfields Program has been turning contaminated properties into viable, successful businesses and community areas.

The program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, works with prospective developers who did not cause or contribute to contamination of an abandoned or unused property they wish to redevelop. A brownfields agreement limits the liability of a prospective developer so the developer can remove or reduce contamination on the property so it can be reused safely.

As part of the 20th anniversary celebration, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Secretary Michael S. Regan recently visited a brownfields project in Uptown Charlotte called Legacy Union. The 10-acre site that had been home to The Charlotte Observer’s headquarters is being redeveloped into a 30-story office building.

“The Brownfields Program highlights recycling at its best,” Regan said. “These once-abandoned projects represent more than $15 billion in committed private investment in redevelopment. The redevelopment projects facilitated by the Brownfields Program have yielded thousands of jobs, reduced public health risks and improved the quality of life near these abandoned properties.”

Prior to the Brownfields Property Reuse Act of 1997, lenders and financiers of potential redevelopment projects chose not to fund those projects because of cost uncertainties and liability for environmental contamination cleanup. Following the act and program’s creation, 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. Developers participate in the Brownfields Program on a voluntary basis.

The program is funded with fees from developers, which means it operates at zero cost to state taxpayers as there is no state appropriation.  

Currently, there are 460 projects with a brownfields agreement in North Carolina with another 150 agreements in development. A number of brownfield properties exist across the state. To name just a few:

  • To protect the Nikwasi Indian Mound and create greenway access along the Little Tennessee River in Franklin, the Mainspring Conservation Trust is working with the state’s Brownfields Program to redevelop the former Simpson Gas and Oil property into a recreational area.
  • The Raleigh Residence Inn, which opened in September, is a $28 million investment project in downtown Raleigh that was developed as part of an agreement between Salisbury Street Hotel, LLC and North Carolina’s Brownfields Program and sits between the Duke Center for the Performing Arts and the Raleigh Convention Center.
  • The former cotton and Bridgeport Fabrics warehouse in Davidson was transformed into the Hub at Davidson, which provides office, classroom and flex space for Davidson College’s faculty and staff.
  • Along Water Street in Wilmington by the Cape Fear River, demolition is underway to make room for the $60 million River Place project, which will include 92 residential units, parking, a restaurant and retail shops.

“Not only does this make an area environmentally-safe and creates jobs, it protects green spaces and historical sites, improves economic development and aids in the development of sustainable communities across North Carolina,” noted Regan.

For more information, visit the North Carolina Brownfields Program’s website at:

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