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Rebuilding the ‘Gateway to Columbus’ – The Mill District

posted 10.05.2021

EPA Brownfield Grant Helps Revitalize a Georgia Community

The 2nd Avenue Corridor of Columbus, Georgia was once a center of economic prosperity. This area, now known as the Mill District, includes the former Bibb City Mill and other historic textile mills. Constructed in 1902, the Bibb City Mill employed up to 2,500 people at its peak in the 1940s. The neighborhoods around the mill provided housing, churches, schools, and recreation for the workers. After years of decline due to a decrease in domestic textile demand, the mills closed in the 1990s, resulting in a collapse of the mill culture.

Even in the face of significant challenges, the community has maintained a strong sense of pride. After decades of decline, local community leaders had a vision for transforming the 2nd Avenue Corridor, which leads to the downtown business district, into a self-supporting, live-work neighborhood with enhanced multimodal access to Uptown Columbus. The City Village Vision Plan was developed in 2016, and in 2020 the Mill District was designated as a Purpose-Built Community, a program that works with communities to improve health outcomes, support mixed-income housing, and promote a holistic approach to education, from preschool to post-graduate.

Evaluating the environmental impacts from the Mill District brownfield properties required a comprehensive understanding of the historical industrial facilities, multiple dry-cleaning operations, various textile support industries, and service stations located along the 2nd Avenue Corridor. This created a complicated puzzle of significant planning for environmental assessments and proper due diligence prior to moving forward with the re-platting and redevelopment of numerous sites. The City partnered with Terracon’s Brownfields services team to help secure funding needed to address potential environment concerns associated with brownfield properties.

EPA Brownfields Grant Program

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields program provides grants and other assistance to help safely clean up and sustainably reuse contaminated properties. Terracon began working with the City of Columbus in 2016 on an EPA Brownfield Assessment grant application for the Mill District. Due to the concentration of poverty, number of vacant and blighted properties, and rampant crime from associated with closure of the mills and further decline during the Great Recession, community redevelopment could not proceed without the assistance of federal funding.

The EPA Assessment Grant was successfully completed in February 2020, seven months ahead of schedule, and included the completion of nine Phase I ESAs, six Phase II ESAs, and one Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives. The grant was awarded in October 2020, which provided $300,000 for community engagement and education, site assessments, and cleanup planning. Terracon was contracted by the city as the environmental consultant. Terracon provided services including: site inventory development, Phase I and II ESAs, cleanup planning, community engagement planning and implementation and programmatic support. The project leveraged approximately $26.2 million in public and private investment for redevelopment projects for this community. A result of the site assessments, approximately 42 acres of the Mill District are now ready for reuse.

A component of the Assessment Grant included Phase I and II ESAs and cleanup planning at the former State Farmers Market. Terracon wrote an EPA Brownfield Cleanup Grant application, which was awarded in FY2019. The $500,000 EPA cleanup grant and $100,000 in matching funds from the City of Columbus, will allow the formerly blighted site to be remediated and ready for the city to redevelop for public use.

To date, Terracon has assisted more than 100 communities in the development and implementation of their Brownfields programs. Terracon has successfully implemented projects supported by more than 275 EPA Cooperative Agreements exceeding $69 million in Brownfields grants across the country. Terracon helps communities turn long-neglected properties into public parks, mixed-use neighborhoods, and more. The Brownfield grants we help secure can bring new life into forgotten and abandoned land.

Recent Achievements

  • Chase Homes Housing Development – Constructed in 1952, Chase Homes is in the City Village area north of Uptown Columbus and was one of the oldest public housing developments in Columbus. Chase Homes is currently under construction as a mixed-income residential development located within walking distance of the Mercer University School of Medicine, also currently under construction. The redevelopment plans include an onsite medical clinic that will be run by Mercy Med, a local nonprofit, and will provide the opportunity for Mercer medical students to volunteer at the clinic and/or live in the new housing development.
  • Discount Fabric –The existing building was remodeled for mixed use. The building includes six residential apartments and 14 coworking office units.
  • Whatley Service Station – The building has been remodeled for commercial use.
  • Related Project –The Columbus Riverwalk was recently connected within the Mill District to provide approximately 15 miles of multimodal travel between the Mill District, Uptown Columbus, and Fort Benning.

Amanda Herrit, M.S.Amanda Herritt, is a senior environmental scientist with Terracon. She provides environmental consulting services primarily in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama including: EPA Brownfields grant writing and program management, state Brownfields program assistance, environmental due diligence, regulatory compliance, and environmental planning.