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An Initiative A Day 3.1: Identifying and tracking vacant and contaminated industrial land

January 29, 2014 in Vibrant NEO 2040, Vision

On February 25, the NEOSCC Board will be voting on the the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Action Products.  With just under 40 days to the vote and 41 initiatives in the vision, we thought it would be good to create a countdown to the vote.  Everyday over the next 5 weeks,  we will be sharing an “Initiative A Day” with you so you can gent a better understanding of the vision and framework!  If you would like to read all of the Initiatives, you can download them here Vibrant NEO_Recs&Init_010114.

Show your support for Vibrant NEO 2040 by adding your name to our Champions of Vibrant NEO 2040 list here!

These recommendations, initiatives, and products, are not one-size-fits all and some aspects of the initiatives won’t be applicable everywhere in the 12-county region.  The Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Products are intended inspire and guide decision-making at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Council of Government, and local levels to ensure that land use, transportation, and environmental considerations are simultaneously addressed by their processes. Ultimately, the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040 is up to Northeast Ohio’s communities and residents. But regardless of the applicability of each initiative to any particular part of the region, the goal for each community within the Vision is the same: stability, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all of its residents.

Recommendation 3: Pursue the remediation, assembly, marketing, and redevelopment of abandoned properties at both the local and regional levels

Northeast Ohio’s regional economy has long been defined by industry, and thus was especially susceptible to the economic restructuring of American manufacturing. Vacant and contaminated industrial land dot Northeast Ohio’s legacy cities. The question of these lands’ remediation and reuse is intimately related to how the region will strengthen its core cities and towns, a central objective of the Vibrant NEO 2040 vision. Similarly pressing is the volume of vacant commercial and residential land, or “greyfields,” a byproduct of the region’s economic transition and a direct consequence of outward migration.

Fortunately, the region has several sources of inspiration on which to draw, both from within and from peer regions. Some areas have enjoyed success in reinvigorating their manufacturing base with a 21st century, d high-tech edge. Others have focused on rehabilitating salvageable buildings as residential and commercial space. A smaller, but still significant number have opted to reposition abandoned and polluted industrial land as a landscape of ecological tourism.

Northeast Ohio must develop a multi-stakeholder, regional approach to dealing with vacant and abandoned properties to position its communities for success in the future. It can incorporate many of the strategies developed and refined already in various pockets of the region and throughout the country, but it will require cooperation and trust, good and constantly maintained information, and investment. The region should consider the following initiatives related to reusing vacant former industrial land:

Initiative 3.1: Develop and maintain a regional vacant industrial and commercial properties database and criteria for determining the most appropriate successive use, whether for redevelopment, green infrastructure, food production, parks, or natural areas.

WHAT THIS MEANS. Northeast Ohio possesses significant data assets related to vacant and contaminated land. These data are generated and maintained by a wide range of organizations, some using geographic information systems (GIS) and some not. County auditors and municipal departments maintain records of ownership, use, and value and tax history. Land banks and economic development entities track demolitions and occasionally contamination, sometimes assigning qualitative attributes to parcels that can be useful to understanding on-the-ground conditions. County engineers and municipal public works departments might maintain information on easements and presence and conditions of publicly-maintained infrastructure. These sources of information are highly useful to all parties involved in the development process, but remain siloed. The regional parcel-based land use and land value database compiled by NEOSCC could be a useful starting point, but to remain a useful tool for policy and development recruitment, the database needs constant updating by contributing partners.

The City of Indianapolis, Indiana implemented a successful site locator service based on information management systems it developed within City government and in partnership with local foundations, community development corporations, and business development entities. The site locator tracks retail, office, and industrial sites that are vacant or on the market, along with purely vacant land zoned for any of those uses. Search parameters include size of property (in square feet and acres), location within particular community development areas, and whether the property is available for lease or sale (citation: Indy SiteFinder, City of Indianapolis,

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. Good and standardized information is critical for planners, public officials, developers, and employers alike. It is essential with complex, multi-stakeholder problems such as the reuse of vacant urban land. The process of constructing a vacant land database would provide impetus for data stakeholders to communicate, share, and begin to standardize collection methodologies and classification schemes. By establishing a common platform of knowledge on which dialogue and consensus-building can take place between stakeholders, a vacant land database would contribute enormously to the region’s economic prosperity by sending a valuable signal to the market regarding the region’s capacity to collaborate with private-sector stakeholders.

GETTING IT DONE. A regional vacant and industrial properties database should integrate data from municipalities and counties, land banks and possibly land conservancies, parks authorities, and state agencies. Data could rest on a common web-based platform with other data products and be used to inform decision-making on everything from vacant land reuse, land bank property sales, and urban agriculture, and include a public-face version used to aid in marketing sites and districts to developers and prospective large employers. Given the jurisdictional complexity of this initiative, an economic development partnership such as the Fund for Our Economic Future or Team NEO should lead the effort, coordinating with NEOSCC and consortium members, particularly COGs, to convene the appropriate stakeholders. Data and information support could come from universities in the region.

POLICY: Develop and promote innovative clean up strategies: Developing and promoting innovative cleanup strategies that restore contaminated sites to productive use, promote environmental stewardship, and reduce associated costs while minimizing ancillary environmental impacts from these cleanups. Consider cleanups in the context of the larger environment and consistently and pro-actively apply more sustainable methods to remediate the site while still protecting public health and the environment and striving to achieve the established cleanup goals.


Chambers of Commerce/Economic Development Organizations; Universities; Nonprofit Organizations; Councils of Governments

Target Community

Strategic investment areas, asset risk areas

Implementation Complexity


Mahoning River Corridor Initiative

May 7, 2013 in Environment, Mahoning

The Mahoning River flows through the eastern portion of the NEOSCC planning area before it eventually empties into the Ohio River in Pennsylvania. The Mahoning River was once considered the heart of the steel industry in the United States, where industrial development grew the cities of Youngstown, Warren, Newton Falls, Struthers and many others along its winding path. Commonly known as “The Valley,” this region experienced massive hemorrhaging of industrial and manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 1980s. The result was population decline and disinvestment in traditional neighborhoods and urban centers that continues today. Additionally, the environmental impact of the industry in The Valley has made the Mahoning River infamous. The river is the only surface water body in Northeast Ohio where the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) has labeled its waters unfit for human contact from Warren to the Pennsylvania state line. More detailed information on the latest monitoring data and clean-up requirements is available from Ohio EPA.[1] Despite the challenges, however, a tremendous initiative to clean and reuse abandoned brownfields, improve water quality, expand recreational opportunity and generate new economic development along the Mahoning River is now underway: The Mahoning River Corridor Initiative (MRCI).

Housed at the Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies, the MRCI is a regional brownfield and urban development collaboration of nine municipalities, Youngstown State University and four non-profit corporations. Among its goals are promoting the opportunities for economic development that exist in the Mahoning River corridor communities.[2] One of the major outputs of the MRCI is a Feasibility Report that:

  • Describes the Mahoning River Corridor Initiative
  • Identifies, maps, and inventories 16 brownfield project sites involving over 800 acres in the river corridor (these sites are available for further economic development and recreational or environmental enhancement).
  • Identifies 11 major infrastructure projects related to those sites.
  • Identifies eight environmental/preservation enhancement areas and 12 recreational enhancement projects.

A copy of the MRCI Feasibility Report is available on the organization’s news website.[3]

Dan Mamula, former mayor of Struthers and NEOSCC Board Member, manages the MRCI. Dan is available to answer questions about the development opportunities available in the corridor area and direct developers to helpful resources. Questions about MCRI may be directed to Dan Mamula by email ( or by telephone (330.941.1850). Additional information about MRCI may also be found through the project’s website (, including success stories within the MRCI partner communities.

Peer Grantee Spotlight: From Brownfield to Mixed-Use

January 28, 2013 in News, Quality Connected Places, Sustainability

Canal Crossing — From Brownfields to Mixed-Use Community

Several sites within the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area require environmental remediation. Image courtesy of Hudconja.

In the mid-19th century, industry flourished around the Morris Canal in Jersey City, New Jersey. As transportation technology improved, the canal was filled in and used as a corridor for freight rail and heavy trucks, which led to the establishment of more intensive industries and neighborhoods for workers in the area. By the mid-20th century, however, many industries had abandoned the city, leaving the areas near the canal with obsolete buildings, contaminated soil, and deteriorated neighborhoods. To address the neighborhood decline, Jersey City created the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area and, in 2009, approved the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Plan. The plan calls for the 111-acre area to be redeveloped as a mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented community designed in accordance with smart growth, new urbanism, and green building principles. The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) took a major step toward achieving the plan’s goals when it was awarded almost $2.3 million in a joint HUD Community Challenge Grant and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Tiger II Planning Grant in October 2010.

 To read the entire grantee spotlight article at HUDUser, click here.

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