The picture is still very murky with regard to what brownfield funding will look like in Ohio. The program is being transferred from the Ohio Department of Development to JobsOhio. The Kasich Administration has stated it believes the program needs to be overhauled. (Click here for prior post regarding transfer to JobsOhio)
Only sketchy details have emerged as to what brownfield funding may look like after the transfer. Comments from JobsOhio officials have suggested the grant model will be tossed in favor of loans. This has local officials from around the state voicing concerns regarding such a radical change to what has been viewed as a very successful program.
Articles have appeared in newspapers around the State discussing local official concerns over changes to the Clean Ohio program. Below is a synopsis of recent articles.
On Monday, the Middletown Journal had a lengthy story discussing the potential impact on the City's efforts to address multiple brownfields. The title of the article captures the concern among City officials "Middletown Clean Up Efforts May Reduce with State Change." The concern expressed, which I have echoed in prior posts as wells, is that JobsOhio will be moving away from grants and more toward loans.
Middletown’s acting Economic Development Director Denise Hamet said there will be fewer applications in a year to clean up brownfields — which are defined as industrial properties that are either vacant or underutilized with environmental contamination to prevent reuse or redevelopment — if a loan policy is in place.
“I think you wouldn’t have a lot of projects penciled out if you have to repay remedial work because that’s above and beyond doing the normal work,” Hamet said. “It’s hard to get projects to pencil out beyond normal construction costs.”
Hamilton Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson agreed and said grants reduce risks.
“That’s why the grant system has worked so well,” he said. “You’re mitigating risk for property owners and the city when you bring in grant dollars.”
In an article from February 13th in Crain's Cleveland Business, titled Leaders fear stalled brownfield clean up cash, local official expressed concern regarding the lack of assessment money as well as a shift to loans from grants.
Tracey Nichols, Cleveland's director of economic development, fears the state under new rules will reject applications that can't identify a specific new property owner with plans to clean up and redevelop a property. The city often has used Clean Ohio money to clean up properties without committed end users so that the properties would be ready for use when prospective buyers or developers come along.
“Most companies aren't going to say, "I love that site and I'll wait two or three years until you're done cleaning it up,'” Ms. Nichols said.
On March 28th, the Akron Beacon Journal also had an article discussing the uncertainty around future brownfield funding. I was interviewed for the story and discussed that the uncertainty means potential projects are in limbo until details emerge.
The article was titled Future of Ohio Clean Up Program is Uncertain. The ABJ pointed out the tremendous benefit the City of Akron has received from the program.
Over the years, the city of Akron got about $16 million in brownfield money from the Clean Ohio Fund. That includes grants for the Goodyear redevelopment, Bridgestone America headquarters, Canal Place, the Middlebury grocery store, the old Beech Street power plant and the Landmark Building.
The brownfield program has been in limbo for some time in Columbus with the change. The state earlier stopped accepting applications. The program is to be reactivated July 1.
On March 5th, the Dayton Daily News ran a story titled "Fund Change May Hurt Ohio Development." The lengthy article detailed the number of projects in the Dayton area that would not have moved forward without Clean Ohio brownfield funding. Local officials and developers also expressed serious concern with moving from a grant to a loan based program.
Downs said the cost of evaluating and rehabilitating old industrial sites would be too high for the city and most developers if Clean Ohio were a loan program.
“A loan program is certainly less attractive to us than what exists right now,” he said. “We couldn’t take advantage of it like we have the existing program.”
A series of letters to the Editor in the Toledo Blade have pointed out the strong benefit the Clean Ohio program has had in the Toledo area.
- Since its creation in 2000, public and not-for-profit conservation groups across the state have used the program to protect more than 26,000 acres of natural areas and 20,000 acres of farmland from development.- Steve Madewell is executive director of Metroparks of the Toledo Area. (click here for April 22nd letter)
- Black Swamp Conservancy has been a regular participant in the farmland preservation program. Our land trust has helped farm families bring millions of dollars to our region's economy. The conservancy has helped protect more than 7,000 acres of northwest Ohio farm ground -- prime soil that always will be used for agriculture.-Kevin Joyce, Executive Director Black Swamp Conservancy Perrysburg (Click here for April 26th letter)