Without proper cleanup, these former industrial sites are unusable, hence the label brownfield, and a specific reclamation protocol must be followed before they can be utilized for any other purpose. This reclamation process can be both time-consuming and very expensive. However, since the amount of usable land is finite, brownfield projects will become more common with every passing year.
Brownfield lands and development is the term used to describe the cleanup and it is a cost and labor-intensive process that includes removing meters of contaminated topsoil and replacing it with turf to create greenways or with clean dirt for building and construction.
Atlantic Station, in the northwest section of downtown Atlanta, was originally the sprawling Atlantic Steel mill on the edge of town. The mill covered over 100 acres and was built in 1901. After seven decades of use the mill was nearly closed but it was kept operational, if only barely, to avoid having to pay for the cleanup and repurposing of the land. This nominal operation allowed the pollution to stay in the ground but was an inefficient use of the land. Prime land that the city of Atlanta had grown around and could be utilized for additional residences and business.
The steel mill was finally closed in 1997 and plans were adopted to turn the area into a multi-use development with an emphasis on its urban residential area to include shopping and office space. The project to clean up the pollution cost almost $2 billion (US) and was completed by 2003. The brownfield project was overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency
During the years that the Atlantic Station Development project continued, it was celebrated as the largest project of its kind and spurred the adoption of similar projects in other parts of the country.
“Unless it was hovering above water, Atlantic Station couldn't be more complicated,” said Brian Leary
, vice president for Atlantic Station, at the time. Since then, larger projects have been completed, but Atlantic Station proved that brownfield projects of this size and complexity could be completed in a cost-effective and efficient way to create new urban areas for residential use.
Atlantic Station opened for business in late 2003 with residents moving in and businesses (primarily chain retail stores and restaurants) opening in the new development. Over the last 14 years high rise condos and office buildings continue to be built and Atlantic Station has taken its place as one of the trendiest areas of Atlanta.
According to the management of The Atlantic, the newest residential skyscraper offering luxury condos in Atlanta
, “Atlantic Station is a city within a city. Although we are part of greater Atlanta, there is a definitive feeling of being a bigger part of the smaller community here.” The Atlantic was completed in 2009 and, at 46 stories tall, is the thirteenth-tallest building in Atlanta.
Atlantic Station is a success story. The brownfield project to clean the soil of pollutants from seventy years of steel production was a huge project but the benefits to the city of Atlanta and her residents will last much longer than that.