Eastward Ho! seeks funds to help developers clean lands
By Marilyn Bowden
As South Florida communities run out of land to build on, new sources of funds may make it easier to redevelop contaminated urban areas, according to local environmentalists.
Eastward Ho! a brownfields partnership bringing together local, state and federal agencies with private, nonprofit and community organizations has applied for a $4 million revolving loan fund from the US Environmental Protection Agency, said Isabel Cosio Carballo, regional coordinator.
Brownfields partnerships target the cleaning up and reuse of contaminated or under-used land.
"In years past we had dedicated funding from the Florida Department of Community Affairs," Ms. Carballo said. "Now that we no longer have that, we are looking for other funding sources."
She said Eastward Ho! was organized in 1997 as a brownfields-cleanup initiative of the South Florida Regional Council. In 1998 the region was designated a Brownfields Showcase Community by the Environmental Protection Agency.
A spokesperson from the federal agency said the initiative could redirect development by South Florida's burgeoning growth, expected to reach 8 million residents by 2010 and perhaps 15 million by 2050, away from the Everglades ecosystem.
Already, "the City of Miami's Wynwood area is one of the first brownfields pilot projects in Florida," according to the EPA spokesman.
That area is commercially zoned and its now ready for redevelopment. In addition, the City of Opalocka also has received a $200,000 EPA grant to clean up the Cuyahoga Wrecking sitel.
"The Brownfields Showcase pilot awarded the South Florida Regional Planning Council has provided an instrument to coordinate revitalization efforts over a 115-mile corridor and with 68 local governments," the EPA spokesman said.
The $4 million revolving loan fund would provide assistance in clean-up, said Terry Manning, a senior planner at Eastward Ho! Existing programs assist with investment. The agency awards, already overdue, should be announced momentarily, she said.
Though the money must first be used for clean-up activity, she said, once it's repaid it can be applied to other uses.
Eastward Ho! is one of very few regional brownfields projects in the country, Ms. Manning said, and the only one in Florida. Since it's also the only applicant from Florida in this round of grants, she said, there's a good chance of success.
Michael R. Goldstein, chairman of the Miami-Dade Brownfields Task Force, helped draft the grant proposal. He said the county has applied for $1 million of the total.
"Another $2 million could also potentially be used in Miami-Dade," he said. "So it would mean up to $3 million additional low-interest moneys for brownfields redevelopment.
"In short, the loan fund provides ready access to capital for developers who want to clean up and develop sites. Lenders tend to be over-cautious about providing capital for those types of projects."
Ms. Manning said Eastward Ho! was recently awarded a $600,000 federal grant for the tri-county area.
"Half of that funds a federal employee in our office," she said. "The other half we're using for site assessments, public outreach, developing our website and toolbox development instructions for how to go about brownfields redevelopment."
Edison Clemons, an economic development specialist at Eastward Ho!, said the partnership will soon begin taking applications for $50,000-$300,000 loans from a revolving loan fund for entrepreneurs it inherited last June from the Beacon Council.
The program is designed to provide working capital for small- to medium-sized businesses that have been denied by conventional banks, he said, at an interest rate no less than 4% below the current prime rate.
In Miami-Dade, Mr. Goldstein said, several million dollars will soon become available for low-interest loans through the Office of Community & Economic Development: $1.75 from a Brownfields Economic Development Incentive and $5 million from an Economic Development Incentive.
Both funds, capitalized by the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development, should be operational by the end of the year, he said.
"We're seeing an increased level of interest in brownfields sites from more conventional developers," Mr. Goldstein said, "such as larger end-users in retail, for example, who are running out of clean sites to build on.
"As a result, the groundwork we've been laying over the past five years is now becoming important."
Details: Eastward Ho!, (954) 985-4416.