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'Brownopoly': This Is No Game

By Steve Dwyer

Let's clarify something upfront: Monopoly is a board game–Brownopoly is serious business. In fact, it's the subject of one of the multiple presentations that will be on tap at the RE3 conference this November in Philly.

In this context, Brownopoly is on a real-world parallel track with the iconic game itself–which is marked by risk, reward, vision, strategy and outcomes, all based on a "player's" decision-making prowess–or lack thereof.

Patrick Kirby, director for the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, West Virginia University, recently told us that in the game, er, business of Brownopoly, the participants don't just fold up the board and move on to other things. It's a sustained process.

The objectives are four-fold: Promoting reuse and redevelopment of brownfields, enabling communities to market strategic sites, enhancing community capacity to engage in redevelopment through education and entrepreneurship, and increasing community ability to develop and implement re-use vision.

The thread that runs through this blueprint is "community," which is crucial to make any of this work. In 2015, Kirby injected the role of community in another context–this in the way a community goes about addressing blighted, abandoned and dilapidated (BAD) buildings that serve as a black mark on a city. These types of sites–that predominantly represent eyesores and public hazards in the urban infill–desperately need community to serve as a catalyst for change.

Every metro area has its own stock of them–an albatross around a municipal government's neck as managing and ultimately transitioning these properties often comes with heavy lifting.

The state of West Va. is one of the visionary states that crafted a plan to manage and eradicate BAD properties. The state is not anywhere near as populous as New York, Chicago, Philly or Houston, but that's immaterial: BAD structures are a scourge even for a city with a small population base.

The West Va., state population is only 1.8 million, with 24,230 square miles all total and is 48th in median household income. The state is 96% Caucasian.

Statistics show housing growth increased by only 4% from 2000-2010, and 13.4% of those properties are vacant. More than 70% of them were built before 1970 and homeownership rates are higher than national average. There are more than 58,000 vacant residential buildings in the Mountaineer State.

Kirby told about how Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center partnered with the West Va. Community Development Hub to create the BAD Buildings program–all with an intent of providing programmatic and technical expertise and resources as well as project leadership to rural communities.

The BAD Building Program created a community-based model by working with local champions to bring together groups of concerned citizens. In the town of Bluefield, 400-plus buildings were demolished, sites were sold to neighbors and ultimately turned in to community spaces.

In Wheeling, abandoned and dilapidated buildings surfaced as a significant problem, but there was little information and meager assistance available to assist in crafting a viable corrective action plan.

Now comes Brownopoly. The details that Kirby will reveal in November start with "identifying the project, executing a game plan, engaging stakeholders, creating a redevelopment vision and then selling it."

Those with a stake in this effort include resource providers, financers, regulators developer/investors and–drum roll–the community.

Shining the light on West Va. Brownfields, some of the project introductions to this blueprint have included the following:

  • Former TS&T Pottery Site
  • Barton Bench Ecological

Restoration

  • Coal Heritage Discovery Center
  • Fairmont Masonic Temple
  • Fairmont Former YMCA
  • Little Kanawha Riverfront
  • Morgantown Ordnance Works
  • Wheeling Redevelopment

Using this approach, the crucial facts about a project can be used to navigate around the Brownopoly board. "It's founded upon creating a better situation for all stakeholders by way of selling redevelopment project ideas, and in the end the communities can win big," says Kirby.

During the November presentation, which is designed to be interactive with the audience ala Shark Tank, grantees can remain at the exhibit and "sell" their property, "pitch" their project during a five-minute summary.

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