This site at 575 Pacific St. in Stamford, which now is home to a Harley-Davidson dealership, was cleaned up and redeveloped with the help of $160,000 from the city’s Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund.

Five years ago, the local Harley-Davidson dealership was in a cramped, one-story building in southeast Stamford. Bikes were shown next to racks of clothes and the mechanics worked on motorcycles in the driveway next to the store.

So, in 1999 the owners decided to expand. They found a building – a former mill – on a street near their old location. The brick building was spacious enough but, because of its former use, it was contaminated.

The owners went forward anyway and, with a the help of a $160,000 loan from Stamford’s Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund, a program which has helped bring housing developments and mixed-used projects to sections of the city once almost exclusively industrial in nature, cleaned up the site in 2000. The city lends money at 6 percent interest for 15 months, but doesn’t charge interest if the loan is paid back in 12 months or less, said Tim Beeble, Stamford’s community development director.

The Environmental Protection Agency gave the $750,000 loan fund to Stamford in the late 1990s so the city could give short-term loans to companies that want to develop land or buildings that are contaminated, usually because of a former industrial use, Beeble said. The fund has helped change several parcels of land, said Mayor Dannel Malloy.

“All in all, things are going amazingly well,” he said. Malloy last week delivered the keynote speech at the National Brownfield Communities Summit in Washington, D.C.

Stamford’s latest loan being considered would go to Stamford-based Collins Development, a part of the Strand/BRC Group, which will redevelop an area the former site of Northeast Utilities’ coal gasification plant. The 40-acre waterfront site will house commercial and residential projects as well as a conference center and a berth for a high-speed ferry, according to documents from the city. It is estimated the cleanup of PCBs, cyanide, lead, asbestos and petrochemicals on the site will cost $20 million.

It is an expensive process, but Stamford’s history with brownfields rehabilitation helped push the developer toward that site, said CB Richard Ellis Executive Vice President Michael Siegel, who is representing Collins Development.

“I think clearly that having a municipality that recognizes the potential that exists with these properties [is helpful],” he said.

Towns and cities that have programs like the revolving loan fund and are familiar with brownfields redevelopment are attractive to developers who want to clean up a contaminated site, Siegel said.

“If a municipality wasn’t behind [redevelopment of brownfield sites] Â… the developer could take years to get it approved,” he said.

Redeveloping brownfield sites can be a lengthy process, he said. Cities that encourage the cleanup are easier to work with because the permitting process can go more smoothly, Siegel said. The city’s endorsement can also help take away the stigma associated with contaminated land, he said.

Stamford’s participation in the project, which will be called Admiral’s Wharf, helped the developers choose that site.

“It’s going to cut down on [permitting and development] time,” Siegel said.

Core Changes

Aside from the loans, the city offers other help in cleaning up brownfields sites. When the owners of the Harley-Davidson shop were looking at the old mill on Pacific Street, they wanted to be sure all the contamination could be cleaned up. Stamford sent help in the form of an Environmental Protection Agency employee who had been working with the city and several licensed environmental professionals who tested the area for contamination, Beeble said. They found PCB’s, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which are man-made chemicals used in electrical equipment that can be harmful to health. The cleanup cost about $150,000, Beeble said. The discovery led the owners of the bike shop to reach an agreement to keep money in escrow until the contamination was cleaned up, Beeble said. During the cleanup process, some 3,500 cubic yards of contaminated dirt was hauled away, he said.

The building itself was rehabilitated and the Harley store opened in November 2000, according to documents from the city, and now encompasses two buildings.

“[The owner] has a very successful business here,” Beeble said.

The renovation of those buildings has attracted other developments, like an antiques store, to the area, according to the documents.

The city’s stance on brownfields has helped change many neighborhoods in the city, Malloy said. Much of the south side of Stamford, where the city’s industrial district once was, has been changed.

“Every city in New England has an industrial core to it because that’s what we were,” Malloy said.

The cleanup projects have helped change the cities in other ways, Malloy believes. Stamford’s crime rate has dropped since the late 1990s, he said. Renovations of brownfields sites, many of which are in blighted areas, have made those neighborhoods safer and nicer places to live, he said.

Brownfields cleanup has also resulted in more housing for Stamford. In 1999, the city reached an agreement to give the first loan from a Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund in the country. A developer intended to clean up an old 12-acre oil tank farm near the water. The developer later sold the land to national apartment developer AvalonBay. The company didn’t need the city’s loan, but cleaned up the area themselves and built 327 units of market rate rental housing, Malloy said.

Since then, the city, in addition to giving the loans, has tried to attract developers with big projects that can make cleanup of large areas economically feasible, Malloy said.

Another developer also is breaking ground this week on a Stamford brownfield site that used to house a car dealership and two gas stations, the mayor said. There will be 92 condominiums there when the project is finished.