Columbia Heights Library honored with Brownfield award

By Sam Lenhart

The new Columbia Heights Library and the New Brighton Exchange are among the winners of the ReScape awards from Minneapolis-based Minnesota Brownfields.

The Minnesota Brownfields is non-profit organization whose mission is to promote, through education, research, and partnerships, the efficient cleanup and reuse of contaminated land as a means of generating economic growth, strengthening communities and enabling sustainable land use and development.

On Thursday Nov. 17, the organization honored winners in five categories, including community impact, economic impact, environmental impact and small city impact. For the first year, the nonprofit also let the public weigh in on their favorite project and awarded a Peoples’ Choice Award. The awards recognize successful developments on formerly contaminated land, also known as brownfields.

Columbia Heights Library

The new $10 million Columbia Heights library at 3939 Central Ave. NE won the small city impact award for the construction of a vibrant 22,600-square-foot building that replaced a decrepit facility and a vacant, contaminated site once home to a Burger King. The site was formerly a fill area from the late 1940s into the 1950s. About 85 percent of the site was filled with demolition debris including concrete, brick, wood, steel and blacktop. The other 15 percent of the site was other municipal solid waste.

The new Columbia Heights Public Library supports revitalization of the heart of the community’s central business district and sustainable economic activity. The project strengthens a walkable community and serves as a hub for community activities, According to Minnesota Brownfields.

Since the Heights Library opened in June, it has given new life to the community’s “Main Street.”

“Our new library has been 35 to 45 percent busier since we opened,” said library director Renee Dougherty. “There is a lot more traffic and circulation of materials and I attribute that to our new location.”

The city also has a partnership agreement with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and features a landscape with storm water best management practices, which remove pollutants and reduce impacts on downstream water resources.

New Brighton Exchange

The 2016 community impact award went to the New Brighton Exchange, a site with a long history of industrial and commercial uses that left the land contaminated with petroleum and landfill gas.

The redevelopment transformed the 100-acre site that previously housed 15 historic properties, including a former petroleum refinery, two rendering plants, a solvent-recycling facility, railroad spurs, two former dumps that received municipal and demolition wastes, an asphalt mix plant, stockyards, and gasoline stations.

After 25 years of planning and commitment by city leaders, both current and past, the New Brighton Exchange is now home to the corporate headquarters for medical device maker Cardiovascular Systems Inc. and APi Group Inc., which has specialty construction businesses worldwide. Additionally, Pulte Homes has built 56 single-family homes and 32 townhomes on the site.

“The New Brighton Exchange has had a huge impact on the city’s economy,” said Janice Gundlach. “We have seen a major rise in the market value. The New Brighton Exchange market value started out at about $5 million now it is close to $100 million. When it is fully developed it could reach $125 million.”

The project is the largest redevelopment in the community’s history.

“It has brought a lot of high quality and high paying jobs to the community,” said Gundlach.

Other winners

Downtown East was awarded the economic impact award. The Downtown East project is a five block, $443.3 million mixed-use development. The project disposed of more than 2,000 cubic yards of asbestos and other hazardous building materials on the former Star Tribune blocks, according to Minnesota Brownfields.

Duluth’s Pier B Resort was awarded the environmental impact award. The hotel was recognized for restoration to the contaminated shipping pier it now stands on.

Brownfields’ first annual peoples’ choice award went to Duluth’s Clyde Park. The sites soil was once contaminated with petroleum but is now home to the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, Iron Clyde restaurant and the Duluth Children’s Museum. The development won Brownfields community impact award in 2012.

Contact Sam Lenhart at [email protected]