Opportunity to redevelop ‘gates to hell’ as coal plants close

Opportunity to redevelop 'gates to hell' as coal plants close

After the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company turned the switch on its massive new Avon Lake site in 1926, the brick giant, which at the time was one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world, ushered in a new era of regional economic development in Northeast Ohio. Helped to start.

After nearly a century, the plant was destroyed and disintegrated. It was closed in 2022, and only one of its six tall smokestacks remains. But developers envision another transformative project at the site, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie, betting that new housing, office and retail space could be a catalyst for the city’s next chapter.

The proposed cleanup and redevelopment of this decommissioned power plant joins a growing collection of such projects across the country. The sites had deteriorated so much that community members considered them a blight. One was so bad that it was used as a shooting location for the dystopian sci-fi film “12 Monkeys.” Locals call the other “Gate to Hell”.

Using an extended range of state and federal subsidies and a legal maneuver to shift environmental liability, these projects seek to transform the community albatross into a potential asset for economic development.

“This is an opportunity for small cities to rethink their future,” said Andre Brumfield, global urban design principal at the architecture firm Gensler, whose team designed it. Proposed 131 Acre Site Plan, “They don’t always have to view these sites as dying industrial liabilities.”

The proposal, which includes 19 acres of parkland, public lakeshore access and up to 1,200 homes, is a collaboration between Gensler, real estate consulting firm Avison Young and Charah Solutions, which specializes in cleaning up former industrial sites and now owns the plant. Is the owner.

Since 2018, Avison Young has been searching for legacy power plants that are “uniquely positioned for both great opportunity and big impact,” said Richard P. Shields, the firm’s executive vice president of development. He estimated that 10 percent About 200 coal plants are still operational across the country. Could be converted to a mixed-use development.

The rapid expansion and increased efficiency of renewable energy has pushed the coal industry toward decline. About 20 percent of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal plants, up from about half their share in 2011. US Energy Information Administration, These plants, which once provided vital tax revenue and jobs, have become costly liabilities for hundreds of communities.

Traditionally, coal plant redevelopment has been average 27 years, according to a 2014 study from the Delta Institute, an environmental nonprofit group. Utilities will simply render them useless due to high remediation costs.

But a process called environmental liability transfer, which allows utilities to discharge their responsibilities through structured asset sales, has encouraged owners to abandon retired plants. a growing range of subsidies, including state tax credits; Opportunity Zones; And many of the benefits from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act have created opportunities for creative reuse.

Avon Lake’s partners want to take advantage of such an opportunity. While the site is being remediated, they are proposing community-based plans and zoning changes, hoping to have the area ready to sell to a developer by the end of 2025.

“This is a transformational project for this town,” said Ted Esborn, Avon Lake’s community development director. “That said, it’s been really complicated.”

Environmental and physical cleanup challenges are significant. During the demolition and rehabilitation of the plant, special teams of workers removed 3,000 tons of asbestos, shipped out 36,000 tons of unused coal and extracted 140 tons of steel from the demolished buildings.

Layers of dust up to six inches thick accumulated in some buildings that required special vacuum cleaners to remove. Local residents who grew up with the plant’s smokestacks in the background of family photos said a layer of ash often covered their cars when the plant was in operation.

Despite all the troubles, closed coal plants are attractive candidates for redevelopment. Because they are connected to the power grid, they can be quickly converted into production sites for renewable energy and battery storage facilities, the use of which the Inflation Reduction Act subsidizes. They are usually on or near bodies of water, which were an essential resource for steam-powered electricity.

Much of the Lake Erie shoreline in and around Avon Lake is privately owned, making the power plant a unique opportunity to create public access to the water. After its population grew in recent decades, Avon Lake is “starved” for access to the lake, Mr Esborn said.

The redevelopment of these plants has inspired many similar projects. The city of Savannah, Georgia began an eight-year process. Resolve its Plant Riverside campusWhich resulted in millions of dollars in community investment.

In Philadelphia, a coal plant on the Delaware River reopened this spring Battery, an apartment building, hotel space and event venue. The plant, which was the shooting location of “12 Monkeys”, It had been an eyesore for decades, said Leonard M. Klehr, vice president of real estate investment manager Lubert-Adler. But by using tax credits to revive its grand Beaux-Arts exterior, Mr. Klehr was able to save the fading site.

Laila Goren, a New York developer, has spent the past decade trying to redevelop a long-defunct coal plant in Yonkers, which locals nicknamed “the Gates of Hell.” After approximately $10 million in cleanup and stabilization costs, the $175 million project is ready to begin significant redevelopment, including tax credits for electric vehicle chargers and its location in an environmental justice zone that serves a critical population. The region is also disproportionately affected by environmental hazards. Persons of color or living below the poverty line.

Avison Young and Charah have also teamed up for the redevelopment Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station and Reservoir A handful of plants have been eyed in southeastern Texas, and in Michigan for residential use. Recreational changes to bike paths and parks,

But even as more examples of redevelopment emerge, there is often a tension between what works best for communities and what works best for developers, said William Schlesser, chief executive of the Delta Institute.

For example, in Chicago, the future of a former power plant site in Little Village, a largely Hispanic neighborhood, has been the subject of extensive community action. After years of attempting to close the plant, local environmental organizations have condemned the lack of transparency due to the redevelopment of the site; Demolition of the plant in 2020 covered the neighborhood with dust,

Questions have been raised about Avon Lake Speed ​​and transparency of redressal efforts – The plant was notorious for pollution during its peak and was a major contributor to High rates of asthma in the area – as well as the height and density of new housing.

“The community feels we need more stakeholder involvement,” said Avon Lake City Council member Jennifer Funderbosch, who favors the redevelopment, partly because of the expected tax windfall that would support the schools. “There’s a trust factor, and they need to believe that all of us who live here want to make this successful.”

Crews have continued improvements and demolitions at the plant; Over the summer, workers began building the base layer of what developers hoped would be a bike path. As work progresses, the city and residents will continue to meet to set a vision for the plant’s future.

“I think there’s still a lot of work to be done that focuses it on the community and really what their priorities are,” Mr. Schlesser said.

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