AvalonBay Wins First NYC Brownfield Economic Development Award

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorNew York–AvalonBay Communities has received the first NYC Big Apple Brownfield Economic Development Award for its Bowery-area developments.At a ceremony held at the Museum of the City of New York, Fred Harris, senior vice president of development, AvalonBay Communities, accepted the award. The event was the inaugural ceremony of the Brownfield Awards, which recognizes various organizations working to redevelop contaminated sites in New York City. The award ceremony celebrates New York City’s most successful Brownfield clean-up and redevelopment projects.“New York City is the first municipality in the country seeking to develop a local brownfield program,” Harris tells MHN. “There are state and federal ones, but the problem is that brownfields—the ones that get attention at that level—tend to be humungous. The day-to-day work of contaminated properties tends to be on a smaller scale. AvalonBay’s role in the Bowery redevelopment includes three of four apartment buildings—Avalon Christie Place, Bowery 1 and Bowery II, with Phipps Houses developing Extra Place, a 100 percent affordable community—on former brownfield sites located between Bowery and Second Avenue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.The redevelopment produced nearly 700 apartments—175 units, or 25 percent, of which are reserved as affordable housing—a 42,700-sq.-ft. community center, 116,000 sq. ft. of commercial space that includes a Whole Foods and the preservation of Liz Chrystie Garden. Furthermore, the developments produced approximately 700 jobs, a crucial component of the Economic Development award.”This was a site with soil contamination, abandoned buildings and physical challenges. It was basically a remnant of a big urban renewal area that had been vacant for 50-plus years,” Harris explains. From an economic standpoint, he notes, AvalonBay was “extraordinarily successful in taking an abandoned eyesore and turning it into a place where people live and shop.”The Brownfield Awards are sponsored by the NYC Partnership for Brownfield Practitioners, an association of brownfield stakeholders consisting of environmental consulting firms, remediation contracting organizations, development organizations and law organizations. According to its Web site, the organization’s mission includes the promotion of better citizen understanding of investigation and remediation work plans and reports,  the training and development of the next generation of environmental professionals and leaders, the training of unskilled workers from targeted New York City communities to develop locally derived labor to serve the brownfield cleanup industry, the creation and development of small businesses in New York City communities that serve the brownfield industry, and the broader purpose of brownfield management through public awareness and education.Awards are granted in eight categories, including Economic Development, Green Building, Affordable Housing, Innovation, Open Space, Distinguished Lifetime Service, Collaboration, and Environmental Protection.“Brownfield development is important, especially for multifamily, because contaminated sites are often located near a historical transportation terminus or intersections, so they are actually great places to develop housing because they may have rail access and be near commerce and jobs. They are a Smart Growth strategy,” Harris says. “From an economic point of view, it not only eliminates eyesores and barriers to urban growth, but it replaces [brownfields] with residents who further support good development.”AvalonBay has developed other former brownfield sites and is currently working on a project in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood, near Hudson Yards, 360 acres of underutilized land. Though the project won’t be completed for many years, says Harris, “That’s a site that, in the old days, you wouldn’t take into the state brownfield program. You would have to deal with the clean up necessary, but the fact that the city has a program may help make that easier.”