It increases the local tax base, creates jobs, revitalizesneighborhoods and extends environmental protection for allcitizens. The benefits of brownfields redevelopment can be seenthroughout a community for years to come. It is not only aninvestment in a parcel of land, it is an investment in ourcommunities and in our citizens.

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In 2002, the AIA strongly supported the federal Brownfields Act,which sparked a nationwide effort to redevelop forgotten buildingsin the heart of America's cities. However, there are still hundredsof thousands of brownfields sites that sit vacant or underused.This is a vital concern to both architects and political leaders ofurban and suburban communities across America.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 400,000to one million brownfields sites exist nationwide. New Jersey aloneis home to at least 20,000 contaminated sites, the majority ofwhich qualify as brownfields. For this reason, it is imperativethat the federal brownfields law be updated to better providecommunities with the necessary tools and resources to clean up andredevelop these potentially valuable sites. Without an update ofthe law, communities that have brownfields sites within theirboarders will continue to deteriorate and remain eyesores.

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Redeveloping brownfields sites produces undeniable economicbenefits, demonstrating that intelligent federal spending onbrownfields will have a large boost for cities and communitiesnationwide. Investing in brownfields will help the economicvitality of our cities and communities, create jobs and stimulatethe U.S. economy now that Congress is exploring ways to turn aroundthe pending recession caused by the recent downturn in mortgage andreal estate sectors.

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Investing in brownfields remediation and redevelopment is animportant priority. In addition to increasing funding levels, AIAbelieves the law should be updated in two other important ways, byproviding businesses with tax credits and by adding projectqualification.

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Each year, the EPA is flooded with requests from local, stateand tribal governments for assessment, cleanup and revolving loangrants to begin the process of revitalizing these sites/buildings.At current funding levels, it is impossible for EPA to fulfill evena fraction of the grant requests. For this reason, AIA believesthat Congress should increase the overall funding level for theEPA's brownfields program.

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AIA also feels that it is beneficial to provide businesses,including developers, with a tax credit for undertaking theseredevelopments. Given the extensive competition among applicantsfor limited grant funding, AIA also feels that including additionalproject qualifications in the program's grant-making criteria woulddirect funding to the best possible projects.

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One such qualification should be energy efficiency. AIA is aproponent of energy efficiency and green building standards. Thesegreen building requirements should be a factor in determining whichgrant applicant receives funding. As most brownfields redevelopmentprojects will at the very least require a major renovation ofbuildings on site, it makes sense that these buildings be designedin an intelligent, energy-efficient way.

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Architects and builders across the country are utilizing themost modern design techniques, materials and building systems toachieve significant energy savings in new and renovated buildings.Energy-efficient buildings offer countless benefits to theirinhabitants. One such benefit is reduced energy use, which willlessen monthly utility bills for businesses and residents. Sincemany brownfields are located in low-income areas, reduced energycosts for future building occupants should be a major factor indetermining which projects receive grants.

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Aside from the economic and community restoration benefits ofbrownfields redevelopment, reclaiming contaminated sites helpsimprove the natural environment. Once a site is cleaned up, it iscounterproductive to then build an energy-guzzling building on thatvery same site, especially when the costs of building green areoften negligible. Thus, AIA strongly believes that brownfieldredevelopment projects that will result in energy-efficient greenbuildings should be given preference as EPA chooses which projectsto finance.

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In summary, the federal Brownfields Act is an extremelyimportant piece of legislation for communities nationwide and ofspecial importance here in New Jersey. AIA-NJ requests the supportof our entire Congressional delegation in signing on as co-sponsorsand providing the positive votes it needs to pass the house.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and not ofReal Estate Media or its publications.

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Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA, West Orange, NJ, is theImmediate Past President of AIA New Jersey, based in Trenton. Hecan be reached at [email protected].

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