National Brownfields Conference in Philadelphia Has Record Attendance and Draws Focus on Opportunities in Marcellus Shale

May 2011Newsletters In the Zone

On April 4,2011, I attended the Brownfields 2011 Conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. To say it was well attended would be an understatement. The crowd was enormous at the plenary session, and it was standing room only at several programs I attended. This is the same conference that used to draw 300 attendees in a good year, and this year it attracted more than 5,000.

While it was a national conference, as the host state, Pennsylvania had a separate area on the exhibit floor, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) made a number of special presentations regarding brownfields opportunities. PADEP Deputy Secretary Denise Brinley spoke on a panel dedicated to brownfields opportunities arising out of the development of the Marcellus Shale formation in north central Pennsylvania. Brinley’s presentation was standing room only, showing how much interest there is in development opportunities in the Marcellus Shale. Members of the Marcellus Shale industry have told local economic development agencies there is a pronounced shortage of warehouse and storage space in the counties where the wells are being drilled as well as a housing shortage for the influx of workers for the gas industry and all the ancillary businesses. The gas companies have for now taken over local hotels and put up “no vacancy” signs. They have also resorted to building so-called “man camp”-like dormitories for workers who cannot find housing. I was told rooms in Williamsport that used to rent for $300 a month several years ago now go for $1,800 a month.

In addition to the presentations, Pennsylvania hosted an Economic Redevelopment Forum on the exhibit hall floor of the conference, where Scott Dunkelberger from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (PADCED) noted there is still ample funding left in the Industrial Site Reuse (ISR) fund (the Act 2 fund), and he invited applications for assessment and remediation grants for brownfields sites. In prior years, when the real estate market was booming, this would be the time of year when the ISR fund would be nearly tapped out of its $5 million annual appropriation and PADCED would tell grant applicants they would have to wait until July 1 when the new fiscal year starts. Apparently there are not quite as many takers this year, so state brownfields grant funding is still available. That funding can be obtained by partnering with a local economic development agency or municipality, which can obtain assessment grants up to $200,000 and remediation grants up to $1 million.

As someone who spends a lot of time working on brownfields redevelopment projects, the great turnout at the April conference in Philadelphia may be a sign the brownfields market in Pennsylvania is ready for renewal. There are pockets of expanded economic activity in Pennsylvania, such as the enormous growth in the counties experiencing the Marcellus Shale boom, that are now tempting many brownfields developers back into the market. During a recent trip to Williamsport, Troy and Towanda, I witnessed the growth taking place. In addition to the construction of well pads and access roads, new hotels are being built, along with treatment facilities and other businesses connected to the Marcellus Shale. I would invite anyone who has been active in real estate development in southeast Pennsylvania to visit north central Pennsylvania and see what is happening there. Brownfields developers, along with homebuilders, may find new opportunities there.

For more information, please contact M. Joel Bolstein at 215.918.3555 or [email protected].