Brownfield Redevelopment Challenging, But Not Impossible

Brownfield Redevelopment Challenging, But Not Impossible

NREI Online &

January 13, 2017

By Steve Lubetkin 

PHILADELPHIA, PA & HIGHLANDS RANCH, CO – Buying and selling brownfield sites for redevelopment as new, mainly industrial, uses can be challenging, but knowledgeable buyers can relieve some of the remediation headaches for owners of such bedeviled properties, according to two experts who have been working together on acquisition and redevelopment of these sites.

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“What you’re looking for is a way to get rid of a contaminated property that’s in your portfolio, something that maybe you’ve dragged your feet on, and you’d like to get it out of the portfolio of the company,” Philip L. Hinerman, a partner at FoxRothschild, a Philadelphia law firm, tells exclusively. “On the other hand what you want to do it is make sure that if you do sell that property, that you’re selling it to someone who is a responsible party, who’s going to finish any work that needs to be done on the site, and will get rid of the site once and for all for you. If you’re a buyer, your main concern is that you’ve got to make sure you make a good deal. You have to understand the contamination that is on the property, you have to do your due diligence, you have to make sure you get a price that allows you to do whatever work needs to be done on the property, and that means you’ve got to be willing to accept some delays.”

Permitting agencies don’t always work as quickly as buyers might like, and regulatory standards can change over time, Hinerman says.

“We find that we can solve these problems as a buyer more adroitly than the sellers,” says William P. Lynott, chief executive officer of Colorado-based Viridian Partners, who has been buying and remediating contaminated sites since the mid-1990s. “We will go to a cleanup level that supports a specific re-use on the property as opposed to the most stringent standards. From our perspective as a buyer, we understand what to look for in due diligence, we set an attractive price for ourselves and our investors, while our sellers get to walk away from these properties, because we fully step into their shoes and assume the liability.”

Remedial workplans are tailored to the property, says Lynott. The bulk of the properties Lynott redevelops are industrial sites being remediated for continued use as industrial sites. Other uses, like retail, require extra caution, he says.

Viridian has been active in New Jersey, last year selling a property in Perth Amboy that housed NL Industries, a former smelting operation, that required a complex three-year remediation. The property was sold to Bridge Realty, which has erected warehouse and distribution on the site, adding to the city’s ratables and creating new jobs, Lynott says.

Sellers need to focus on whether a buyer is suitable for a particular brownfield site, says Hinerman.

“The absolute worst thing you can do as a seller is not pay attention to who the buyer is and leave that liability there and unmanaged,” he says. “It doesn’t really accomplish your goal because it remains a headache after you’ve sold it. People can bring lawsuits against you as owner at the time of the disposal. You have to be sure that the person you sell that property to is going to be responsible and handle it with the government agencies.”

The stock of traditional brownfield sites are declining, says Lynott, but the pipeline of opportunities remains robust.

“The old legacy sites with the rusty fence and the padlocks, they are diminishing in terms of availability,” he says. “However, mergers and acquisitions are generating as many, if not more, opportunities.”

“As we have grown in the industry, I think if anything, we’ve discovered more of these sites around that may not have been so obvious,” says Hinerman. “There may have been some uses of the sites that nobody put together the fact that they were polluting. So I don’t see any real diminishment in the supply of these sites, especially because we’re getting more sophisticated in our review of sites, and more interested in new contamination possibilities.”

Brownfield redevelopment sites are also subject to the vagaries of the market, says Lynott. “We have to be very conscious of where we choose to buy these properties to redevelop, so we focus very much on Port of New York/New Jersey, the South Bay area in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire in Southern California. We need to be in very robust markets, so we are subject to the same economic considerations.”

Philip L. Hinerman, partner at FoxRothschild, left, and William P. Lynott, chief executive officer of Viridian Partners.

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