What is brownfield development?

Buildings developed on previously undeveloped land are referred to as greenfield developments. Buildings developed on sites previously used for industrial or commercial purposes are termed brownfield developments. In some cases, brownfield sites have pre-existing structures. In other cases, they do not. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfield sites specifically as those where reuse or redevelopment contend with pollutants or other hazardous substances.

Brownfield development can take place on decommissioned military bases, former factories and other commercial and industrial sites.

Why would somebody want to develop a brownfield?

Due to increasing urbanization, city perimeters are expanding to encompass formerly commercial and industrial areas. Demand for industrial spaces in these locations may be declining even while demand for residential or logistics facilities in the same locations is increasing. This dynamic gives rise to an economic opportunity to repurpose land for more productive use, once sites are cleaned-up and redeveloped. In many cases, a site that is of little use to its former owners may be highly valuable to a new owner envisioning a different use.

How does developing a brownfield development differ from developing a greenfield site?

There can be a significant difference between brownfield and greenfield development. Typically, a brownfield development requires more work and investment upfront: existing structures may have to be demolished, materials must be removed, and developers may have to engage in extensive environmental cleanup to remove pollutants. Often, government authorities require higher level inspections and increased testing of brownfield sites as compared to greenfield development.

How do companies cope with the higher costs associated with brownfield development?

Brownfield developers may tap into federal, state and local programs that assist with cleanup and remediation of brownfield sites. Brownfield projects may benefit from technical assistance, more affordable financing, plus tax rebates and credits.