Milwaukee’s 30th St. Corridor brownfields targeted for development

October 27, 2014

Milwaukee's 30th St. Corridor is a nearly four-mile long stretch that consists of roughly 880 acres. Its proximity to the city's center has long attracted a number of potential players, from business groups to real estate developers. However, the area's history as Wisconsin's "industrial spine" has left much of its abandoned, contaminated and unusable. 

Now, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is targeting the area as part of his "Transform Milwaukee" effort, making it a centerpiece in the city's revitalization. Walker sees the previous manufacturing mecca of the state making a resurgence, providing the "advanced manufacturing" services that can not be affordably accomplished overseas.

This process will require more than interest from developers and a motivated clean up crew. Environmental consultants will be required to help identify the most cost-effective ways of addressing the many brownfields and other contaminated properties in the area. 

The first brownfield site to begin remediation is the Century City property, because of its considerable size and enviable location. The 74-acre site was purchased by the city in 2009, according to Urban Milwaukee, a local news source. Funding from local, state and federal agencies are sponsoring the effort. 

Efforts were slowed by the surprise discovery of underground storage tanks of dangerous chemicals at the property. They were not included in any of the precious records of the site. "I suspect that there will be more surprises along the way," Tory Kress, Senior Environmental Project Engineer for the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee told Urban Milwaukee. Fortunately, the city draws its water from Lake Michigan, so groundwater contamination is slightly less pressing. 

As one travels south from the Century City property, remediation becomes even more complex. The lots become oddly shaped and generally measure under an acre. This makes them far less attractive to potential developers, making getting funding for remediation more difficult. 

Many of these properties also were severely flooded in 2010, when 8.3 inches of rain fell on the city in a day. With the vast majority of the 30th St. Corridor covered in impermeable concrete, properties began to develop mold and mildew from the stagnant water. The event caused $32 million in damages to businesses in the northern end of the corridor.

Each of these smaller properties will also require its own remediation plan based on its current condition, history of activity and anticipated future use. Residential remediation requirements are generally far more extensive than those for future industrial use. 

Many of the properties could also require varying levels of soil and groundwater remediation. Kress assures that "pretty comprehensive set of soil and groundwater sampling" has already been accomplished, but also that "we need to sample over time, and over seasons" to determine the true extent of contamination. 

Motivation to address rebuilding the 30th St. Corridor has stemmed from the recent success of the city's Menomonee Valley neighborhood. Also once an area defined by industrial blight and largely left abandoned, it has recently emerged as an industrial, recreational and entertainment district. 

When businesses replace brownfields, communities can realize significant economic and cultural benefits. Environmental consultants can help community and government leaders determine the most efficient and cost-effective strategies to jumpstart economic growth.