Kalamazoo has been a manufacturing center for over 125 years. During the past 25 years, a number of factors have resulted in an increased supply of vacated industrial sites (referred to as "brownfields" because of the possible environmental contamination of sites with obsolete structures):

  • Industrial enterprises have abandoned outmoded, contaminated buildings and sites.
  • The demand for central city sites has declined as manufacturing processes and warehousing have become more horizontal and as incompatible neighboring land uses have been avoided.
  • Environmental standards and their enforcement have increased.
  • Relatively inexpensive, vacant suburban sites have been improved with infrastructure and heavily promoted for industry (referred to as "greenfields").
  • Building rehabilitation and debris disposal standards have increased.

In early 1994, the City Commission of Kalamazoo requested that the City administration develop an incremental approach for achieving an environmentally clean community. The driving factor was a sense of community desire to restore productivity to abandoned or underutilized areas of the City. It was also realized that many of the areas in question might be prime redevelopment sites if it were not for contamination problems. Given limited vacant land in the City and extreme difficulty of expanding the existing corporate boundaries, brownfield redevelopment was a way to link the identification and clean-up of environmental contamination with development and redevelopment. Potential benefits to the community include job creation, expansion of the tax base, rejuvenation of infrastructure, and improved quality of life for residents.

 The initiative was originally named the "Environmentally Clean Community" (ECC). The name was later changed to the "Brownfield Redevelopment Initiative" (BRI) to eliminate confusion with the City's Environmental Concerns Committee and to better describe the purpose of the initiative.

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