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From Idle to Full Throttle: The Development of the Chesapeake Commerce Center

By Kara A. Allison

For almost 70 years, the former General Motors Baltimore Assembly Plant produced almost every type of car in the GM lineup from the Impala to the Pontiac GTO. Located adjacent to the Seagirt and Dundalk marine terminals at the Port of Baltimore, Md., the 182-acre, 3.2 million-square-foot assembly plant provided jobs and sustained the local community until GM closed the facility in 2005.

Today, this former automotive manufacturing property is well on its way to redevelopment as the Chesapeake Commerce Center—a $150-million business park that incorporates a number of sustainable design elements, including the recycling of 96% of demolition debris from the site and the construction of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building as part of the overall redevelopment.

Building upon a corporate strategy to develop commercial real estate properties near key U.S. ports, Duke Realty Corp. acquired the former GM Baltimore Assembly Plant in January 2006 and teamed with Hull & Associates, Inc. to make way for new commercial and industrial development.

“As a major publicly-traded real estate developer, we are always excited about improving the environment with our developments,” said Bill DeBoer, Duke’s executive vice president of Redevelopment and Logistics. “What better way to prove that than by taking on the challenges associated with redeveloping a former automotive manufacturing facility? And with its prime location near the Port of Baltimore, this site provided us with an opportunity to develop in an area of the country in which we are keenly interested in growing.”

Solving regulatory obligations
With the plant’s closure in 2005, GM was required to satisfy its state and federal hazardous waste management obligations. As plans progressed toward a sales agreement for the property, GM met with representatives from U.S. EPA Region 3 and the Maryland Dept. of Environment (MDE) to confirm its commitment to working with a developer that would take on the environmental responsibility for cleaning up the property and assure that GM’s previous environmental commitments were met.

Working with GM, Duke and Hull created a comprehensive cleanup matrix and master schedule, and approached U.S. EPA and MDE with a plan for streamlining the remediation process. Responding in kind, U.S. EPA and MDE created an intergovernmental team that met intensively and repeatedly early in the revitalization process. This collaborative public-private partnership focused on both the cleanup goals for the project as well as the overall commercial reuse scenario for the property.

From an environmental standpoint, the most challenging aspect of the project was completing all of the clearance, demolition and remedial activities according to an 18-month schedule to accomplish the following:

  • Demolishing 3.2 million square feet of assembly plant buildings and structures;
  • Conducting environmental investigations to satisfy both regulatory programs (including the preparation and regulatory approval of work plans prior to conducting investigations);
  • Evaluating data and conducting risk assessments;
  • Achieving regulatory approval of investigation and risk assessment results;
  • Designing a remedy to coordinate with future development;
  • Achieving regulatory approval of the proposed remedy; and,
  • Initiating remediation and development activities.

Developing cleanup, revitalization strategy
Prior to the property purchase, Duke and Hull developed an intricate remedial strategy and cost estimate to address all environmental issues. Due diligence activities on the property were completed in less than 120 days before closing.

As part of the project’s overall development, an integrated approach to address site-wide RCRA Corrective Action and Maryland’s Voluntary Cleanup Program requirements was negotiated with U.S. EPA and MDE.

In addition, all community outreach activities were coordinated and conducted in conjunction with RCRA Corrective Action requirements as administered by U.S. EPA Region 3 and MDE. This project represents the first time a brownfield was assessed and redeveloped through both programs concurrently in U.S. EPA Region 3—essentially becoming a model for an informal “One Cleanup Program.”

“By streamlining the administrative procedures, we were able to reduce a process that would have taken years under the course of a typical approach into a unified regulatory timeline that satisfied the needs of all stakeholders,” said Hull CEO Craig Kasper. “The development and job creation you see on the site today can be directly attributed to the collaboration between the public and private parties who worked so hard to address the environmental obligations for the property through this unique partnership approach.”

This unified approach of managing regulatory requirements for the project expedited meeting standards under both programs from both administrative and technical perspectives. The RCRA Corrective Action portion was conducted under the Facility Lead Program developed by U.S. EPA Region 3.

Groundwater compliance was based on determining area-wide groundwater use patterns, identification of appropriate receptors and a combination of sampling and modeling to evaluate potential risks. This process also resulted in the development of Environmental Media Management Decision Levels (EMMDLs) for evaluating soil-to-indoor air and groundwater-to-indoor air pathways and potential direct contact exposures to total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) and lead in soil. The EMMDLs accounted for differences in risk goals between the U.S. EPA and MDE programs and provided for one standard to conservatively evaluate the respective potential exposures.

The overall remedy was designed to coincide with and complement Duke’s planned redevelopment of the Chesapeake Commerce Center. The project also included sub-parceling so that regulatory closure could be achieved within targeted portions of the overall site as remediation and construction within those sub-parcels was completed.

Going above and beyond
Beyond the regulatory requirements of the redevelopment project, Duke took its environmental commitment one step further. By dismantling the buildings and structures on-site, Duke chose a waste reduction method which resulted in recycling 96% of all non-hazardous building materials.

Former pits, trenches, and basements were filled with material that was processed by an on-site concrete crusher. In addition, the obsolete plant floor machinery was recycled.

“As a partner in both the cleanup and redevelopment of this former industrial site, EPA commends Duke Realty for its commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability,” said U.S. EPA Region 3 Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh. “By incorporating recycling into their project, they were able to conserve natural resources, reduce greenhouse emissions, and increase their energy savings.”

The volume of materials from the deconstruction of the recycled materials is estimated to be approximately 98,000 tons, which is equivalent to the energy savings of removing nearly 1,000 cars from the roadways for one year. Over the entire Chesapeake Commerce Center project, Duke will increase the greenspace by 20%, thus reducing stormwater runoff, minimizing heat island effects and adding to the overall green landscaping and aesthetics of the area, including the planting of 2,200 trees.

Major environmental activities at the Chesapeake Commerce Center are now complete, with the final environmental work at the 182-acre site being finished in conjunction with active construction activities. Hull secured approved remedial action plans from the Maryland Dept. of the Environment (MDE) for each of the active site areas and implemented the approved activities site-wide. Final certificates of completion were secured from MDE as all work was completed.

Breaking ground for new development
Duke broke ground for the Chesapeake Commerce Center in June 2007 and the project is expected to create thousands of new jobs over the next 10 years.

With plans to invest more than $150 million in the Chesapeake Commerce Center, Duke is working toward building 2.8 million square feet of warehouse, distribution and office space in 16 buildings at the site. The first of two commercial warehouses on-site was completed in January 2008. At 344,000 square feet, the facility is a state-of-the-art, cross-loaded distribution center with 32-foot clearances and is fully leased. A second, 369,000-square-foot LEED certified warehouse building is planned. This facility will use recycled and regional materials, and will incorporate energy and water efficiency into the building design while maximizing greenspace onsite.

Two 117,600-square-foot office/warehouse buildings have also been planned as part of the development, the first of which was completed in January 2008. Duke secured Johns Hopkins as a tenant for this office building and brought 200 jobs to the site in March 2008.

Duke has also marketed developed pad sites in the Chesapeake Commerce Center. In January 2009, the Port of Baltimore/Maryland Administration purchased 14.6 acres in Chesapeake Commerce Center for its cargo needs. Duke also sold a 13-acre development parcel to Merchants Terminal Corp. for the development of an environmentally friendly, perishable foods distribution center.

Kara A. Allison, APR, is director of government and community relations, for Hull & Associates, Dublin, Ohio

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