Late in August, a Springfield developer, Craig Wagoner of Water Street Development LLC, got more than $127,000 in Brownfield Redevelopment Program credits through the state of Missouri’s Department of Economic Development.
The Brownfield Redevelopment Program is administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its regional program. Springfield, which falls in Region 7, received $200,000 for its portion relating to hazardous substances cleanup, with another $200,000 funded for assessment (and $110,000 for petroleum assessment), all through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is in addition to the $1 million the city already received in EPA Brownfield funding.
For Wagoner, the funding is a reprieve for a project more than a year in the making but suspended because of the presence of asbestos. Awarded in the form of remediation tax credits, which in Missouri can offset up to 100 percent of brownfield-related redevelopment costs, the credits can even be assigned to subsequent owners.
Wagoner applied for the credits several months after buying the property at 213 W. Olive Street in January – a structure built in 1899 known to Springfield residents as the old Heer’s parking garage. The building has been valued at $316,000, according to the Greene County Assessor’s Office, and is one of several projects in the area, including Heer Tower, getting an upgrade under the Save our Springfield project.
Wagoner, whose most notable projects so far include the Seville Lofts and the Lofts at Jordan Creek, both affordable rental units, intends to repurpose the former 43,000-square-foot, three-story parking garage into both residential and commercial units.
So far, the presence of asbestos rather than repurposing has been the major hang-up. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral widely used in construction materials like insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, and window and wall caulking throughout most of the last century, has been implicated in a number of diseases, namely asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis commonly occurs only after prolonged exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma, which can occur as pleural (lungs), peritoneal (abdominal) or pericardial (heart) mesothelioma, is – according to OSHA, the CDC, and the American Cancer Society – as likely to occur after a single exposure as after many. That is, a day or a lifetime can cause it.
The danger of mesothelioma is that it typically lies dormant for up to five decades before producing symptoms severe enough to drive sufferers to a doctor. By that time, the cancer has invaded so many tissues or vital organs, the prognosis is generally poor. Most victims are given between a year and 18 months to live. Only 10 percent, those whose disease is caught early and treated aggressively, survive more than five years.
Because the Heer parking garage was essentially unused since 1998, and vacant since 2005, it met two key qualifications for Brownfield funding. The final key was contamination by a hazardous substance; asbestos.
The remediation via tax credits makes the building eligible not only for remediation costs, but for jobs created. Wagoner projects the $2 to $3-million project will create 20 jobs, and is using a city loan to pay for asbestos removal, with the loan paid back when the credits are paid on completion of asbestos remediation.
The Springfield Brownfield Program is coordinated through the city’s Economic Development Office in the Department of Planning and Development, which works in cooperation with Region 7 of the EPA. Across the nation, similar Brownfield programs make renovation of older buildings, and the removal of hazardous substances like asbestos, possible without tapping the resources of both local agencies and developers.
Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Springfield Missouri city website, OzarksFirst.com