Alongside the warehouses and retail plazas that line busy 22nd Avenue North, the empty field stands out like a missing tooth.
The plot, covered by piles of dirt and unkempt grass at the corner of 29th Street, was once the site of the Jones Chemical plant until it went up in flames in August 1986. The blaze sent clouds of chlorine vapor into the air, sending 44 people to the hospital. Nearly 6,000 people fled their homes as police evacuated a 20-block area.
The plant was eventually demolished, but traces of chlorinated solvent remain in the soil and groundwater beneath the 2.5-acre site, and developers have been hesitant to assume the clean-up costs attached to the property.
Hoping to spur construction of the last undeveloped property in a key commercial corridor, city officials are planning to ask the state to designate the land as a brownfield site.
The designation offers financial incentives to developers to clean up the site, allowing them to recoup half of the clean-up costs through tax credits. There are also $2,500 incentives for each job created in a brownfield area.
“The tract will stand out because it’s one of the vacant parcels in the redevelopment along 22nd Avenue North,” said Sophia Sorolis, the city’s economic development manager.” It’s a prime parcel for redevelopment.”
The Brownfields Redevelopment Program is run by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency responsible for approving clean-up plans of contaminated sites.
The pollution at the 22nd Avenue North site includes tetrachloroethene, a substance widely used in degreasers, DEP officials said. Exposures to high concentrations of the contaminant can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea and can be fatal, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Clean-up could be expensive. DEP requirements for an earlier proposed development that never materialized included the removal and dumping of contaminated soil and building materials at a specialized landfill. The builder was also required to treat stormwater runoff before discharging it into county sewers.
The property is being marketed by the Belleair Development Group, which is in negotiations with a couple of potential tenants interested in developing a commercial-retail space, said Vice President Christian Yepes.
Incentives from the brownfields program are critical to encouraging development, he said.
“We can take previously unusable land and turn it into developable land to bring jobs to the city,” Yepes said.
A public hearing on the proposal to designate the land as a brownfields site is scheduled for June 6 at the Gladden Park Recreation Center, 3901 30th Ave. N. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
The proposal must also be approved by the City Council.