Shannon Selby is the Vice President of Real Estate Services at the Detroit Regional Partnership, where she leads the strategy, operations, and execution of DRP’s Verified Industrial Properties (VIP by DRP) program. VIP by DRP simplifies the site selection process by providing corporate decision makers with an easily accessible online inventory of vacant industrial properties in the Detroit Region vetted by third-party civil engineers.
Shannon is presenting at the Brownfields 2023 conference at Huntington Place in Detroit on August 9, where she will discuss the importance of brownfield sites in the Detroit Region’s site readiness plan. Below is a conversation with Shannon about brownfield sites and how they provide an opportunity for the Detroit Region to create jobs and capital investment.
What are brownfields?
Shannon Selby: A Brownfield is a contaminated site likely polluted from past human activities. Michigan, and specifically the Detroit region, is a 100-year-old legacy industrial community with brownfields sites competing against other sites in other states that may not have the same challenges. As these sites become obsolete over time, they become vacant. However, Brownfields have some of the best infrastructure, including access to workforce and existing housing because something on the site existed before. There is grant funding assistance in the environmental cleanup and special financing that can assist in offsetting costs.
Brownfields are a really important piece for our region. We are out of vacant industrial buildings. We need industrial land ready to recruit companies that create jobs and drive capital investment. One of the most recognizable brownfields in our region is The Detroit Riverwalk, voted the Number 1 riverwalk 3 years in a row!
What is the process of cleaning up a brownfield like?
Shannon Selby: It’s site specific and dependent on what was on the site previously. Brownfields are like a real estate puzzle, you have to take them apart, fix the challenges – put them back together again and then they can go back into production. For instance, if there was a gas station with underground storage tanks that leaked, it may be more challenging. That is why it is so important to have national experienced brownfield civil engineers as partners of the VIP program conducting detailed due diligence on these sites and our experts that make recommendations on how best to clean up/remediate the site.
Redeveloping and reusing an existing brownfield site is one of the most sustainable things you can do. Think of it as real estate recycling! There are federal grants and state grants from EGLE for site assessment. There are national developers that specialize in brownfield development.
What makes brownfields important to the Detroit Region’s site readiness strategy?
Shannon Selby: Brownfields present a great opportunity for our 11-county region. They are often located in a more populated area with an available workforce. Typically, utilities exist because something was developed previously on the site exist saving time and costs. And then there’s the talent piece. If you have a site in the middle of nowhere, it’s difficult to recruit talent because there’s not enough people living in the area and no existing housing.
We have nine brownfield sites out of our 29 sites in our VIP by DRP portal that have been vetted and due diligence has been conducted. Due diligence on a piece of property is similar to when you buy a home, and you do an inspection. You have someone go through that house and make sure everything’s working, address the challenges, constraints, and identify the problems. This is what our VIP civil engineers conduct on the brownfield site that produces a compressive desktop due diligence report. Our program provides drone video on each sites, and we pull workforce and regional data. All of this information is posted on our dedicated portal open to everyone.
Buick City is a high-profile brownfield that was listed in the VIP by DRP catalogue. Can you say more about the importance of that property?
Shannon Selby: We’re excited to have the former Buick City site now known as Flint Commerce Center in the VIP program. That site has been vacant and contaminated for many years. Ashley Capital purchased the site, renamed it Flint Commerce Center and is developing its first spec building on 20 acres. The rest of the 350-acre site is available for development. Ashley Capital has shared traction on their site including manufacturing companies inquiring about building potentially 700,000 sq ft facilities. These are the types of projects we are targeting for our region with great-paying jobs. This site is a game-changer for Flint, Michigan and our region that could create more than 3,000 jobs at buildout. The Buick City site has a rich history and is nationally recognized. From a strategic position, the world will see that the Detroit region means business.
Why does a high-profile former Buick City site need a program like VIP by DRP to get into the market?
Shannon Selby: Ashley Capital is a sophisticated national developer. They have 5 sites in the VIP program with real estate brokers that are regularly marketing their sites. We are an award-winning program, with a full marketing program and a dedicated portal to vetted industrial sites. The VIP portal puts Buick City in a compact report that is uniform, formatted, transparent, and verified. Our DRP business development team talks to hundreds of companies and site selectors internationally and nationally each year. Ashley Capital recognizes both the strength of the DRP team and the VIP Program as an opportunity to reach these end users.
How does VIP by DRP make the Detroit Region stand out?
Shannon Selby: Industrial is the hottest sector in the real estate market. There are no existing industrial vacant buildings. If a vacant site hasn’t been prepared and put through a step-by-step site readiness program, it causes delay, is less marketable and greatly diminishes consideration of our region. VIP by DRP provides speed to market with a transparent, third-party verified process. In this marketplace, you must have clear, critical, accurate information readily available to be competitive. Having sites ready to pull the trigger on projects is why we created VIP by DRP. We are the regional economic development organization tasked with marketing an 11-county region for investment. Our program assists in creating jobs and capital investment, and this program is how we can compete as a region. www.verifiedindustrialproperties.com