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Cutting edge brownfield project earns Community Progress fellow White House honor

04/26/12

 “Chevy in the Hole” clean-up will transform contaminated 125-year-old industrial site into community asset in model environmental remediation project .


April 25, 2012 – Communities across the nation struggle with vacant and abandoned industrial and commercial property that can come with serious environmental challenges, ratcheting up costs for cleanup and redevelopment. Thanks to Community Progress Fellow Steve Montle and his colleagues, one Michigan city is setting a new path forward in repurposing blighted and environmentally contaminated properties – in what serves as a model for cutting through red tape, keeping down costs, and building collaborative partnerships to transform brownfields into community assets.

Montle was honored this week as a leader in greening U.S. cities and towns with the White House’s prestigious Champions of Change award on April 24. The recognition honors leaders who are using innovative approaches to promote energy efficiency, revitalize outdoor spaces, encourage transportation options, and improve quality of life in our cities and towns. Winners also participated in a panel discussion on their work; view it on Youtube here.

“At Community Progress, we work with cities, towns, counties and states across the nation to bring best practices to the table in reuse efforts,” says Amy Hovey, Community Progress Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Capacity Building. “This brownfield project is designed to streamline costs, cut the red tape, and create real transformation as quickly as possible – precisely the kind of innovation, collaboration and initiative we support. We’re very proud to be part of this restoration effort, which offers cities a blueprint for strategies to tackle these kinds of complex brownfield projects.”

The “Chevy in the Hole” industrial complex in Flint, Michigan is iconic of the challenge that rust belt cities confront – and the White House recognized Montle’s work with local partners, including colleagues at the Center for Community Progress, both for its cutting edge approach to remediation and the larger planning process, which has helped cut red tape and move the effort forward much more quickly.

The vacant 130-acre riverfront property, which has hosted a range of industries since the 1880’s, was once the economic heartbeat of Flint, serving as a central manufacturing hub for General Motors for years. The stretch of river running through Flint is one of the most degraded parts of the Flint River watershed, and the blighted site hurts property values of adjancent residential communities and undercuts Flint’s efforts to revitalize it’s nearby downtown.

The project will reduce contaminants entering the river and improve habitat along the river’s edge, substantially improving water quality and ecosystem health. In addition, the creation of a continuous green corridor along the river will encourage adjacent and nearby redevelopment and link the land with a city-wide open-space network, which parallels efforts by nearby institutions, such as Kettering University and Hurley Hospital. 

The massive remediation project partners the EPA, the Genesee County Land Bank, the U.S. Forest Service, a host of local environmental projects and companies, and government officials in a process that has cut red tape and the costs of remediation, crafted a plan to reclaim the riverfront for greenspace and clean up contaminated areas, set aside space for green business development – and gotten boots on the ground now to start reclaiming the land for recreation and park space. Volunteers are already planting trees on parts of the space that will pull toxins out of the soil as part of the larger clean-up and remediation project.

Community Progress stepped in to provide a fellowship to support Montle’s work with funding from the Mott Foundation after a budget shortfall for the City of Flint cut funding for Montle’s work as the City’s lead staffer on the project.

The Center for Community Progress was a natural fit for Montle, whose work centers on complex urban redevelopment projects and the leveraging of governmental and community assets to bring projects from the planning stages to implementation. Michael Freeman, the Center for Community Progress’ program director for capacity building, has been intimately involved in the project, currently serving as chair of the Flint River Corridor Alliance, which has long worked to clean up the vast brownfield. Community Progress co-founder and President Dan Kildee founded the Genesee County Land Bank, which played a critical role in assembling all of the land parcels to make the project possible.

The White House highlighted Montle’s work and that of eight fellow awardees on Wednesday, for their work using innovative approaches to promote energy efficiency, revitalize outdoor spaces, encourage transportation options, and improve quality of life in our cities and towns.

“Healthy, sustainable communities support a strong economy and better quality of life for Americans,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, about the awardees. “The leaders we’ve selected as Champions of Change are finding creative ways to make their communities healthier places to live, work and play, and demonstrating how a healthy environment and strong economy go hand in hand.”

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

“This project was shaped by a huge team of collaborators – government officials, local residents, environmental groups, the business community, and of course funders and supporters like the Mott Foundation and the Center for Community Progress,” says Montle. “We’ve created a model for this riverfront reclamation project that has cut the red tape – and the costs – for local government to get behind the effort, and crafted a remediation plan that will heal the environment and support economic stability for the larger city. I’m honored to be recognized by the White House, an honor that all of our stakeholders really share.”

Learn more at the White House website


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The Center for Community Progress works to create vibrant communities and improve the overall economic and social wellbeing of cities and towns in America through the reuse of vacant, abandoned, and problem properties. We serve as the national resource for policy, information, capacity building, and training regarding the redevelopment of vacant, abandoned, and problem properties; we partner with federal, state, and local officials and non-profit organizations that work to reposition these properties; we collaborate with experts on research that contributes to the growing body of public policy on successful reuse; and we serve as the leading national advocacy organization on effective reuse strategies. To learn more, call us at 877-542-4842 x150 or visit www.communityprogress.net.

Join us from June 20-22 in New Orleans for Remaking America for the 21st Century – Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. Bob Edwards and Clarence Page will headline three days of collaboration and networking among hundreds of government and community leaders working to reverse the epidemic of vacant and abandoned property across the nation in what has become the nation’s leading gathering of experts and stakeholders in the field. Visit our website for more information.

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