Consultant has vision to turn brown into green

TRAVERSE CITY – From eyesore to anchor.

Helping to transform old manufacturing sites into vibrant, mixed- or single-use developments, Mac McClelland joined Otwell Mawby, PC, two months ago as Manager of Brownfield Development. In communities around northern Michigan, McClelland will be doing everything “from soup to nuts,” as he terms his work facilitating these changes.

“I’m working at Otwell Mawby with communities and developers to try and position these properties for development,” said McClelland, “matching sites and developers and helping communities go through this process and redevelop these things.”

For the past 20 years, the Traverse City-based Otwell Mawby has been a full-service environmental consulting firm offering a range of services. McClelland will focus on brownfield projects, of which there are many in his territory of all of northern Michigan.

“We do all assessment services of a site, help developers go through the process of acquiring financial incentives and also work with communities to help bring grants in their community,” McClelland said.

One of McClelland’s current projects is in Mason County, where the county and the city of Ludington have received an Environmental Protection Authority and a Department of Environmental Quality, respectively. These funds will be extend the effort to rework the city’s downtown.

McClelland has helped facilitate meetings in the community, where resident input will help guide the project.

“We had great amount of excitement at meetings that we had in Ludington. A bunch of people came out and were really interested in talking about these issues,” he noted.

McClelland, a native of Jackson, holds a bachelor’s in environmental science and a master’s in community education from Michigan State University. After college, he joined the Michigan Public Service Commission and the state Energy Office, working there for nine years.

From there, McClelland moved to Grand Traverse County, where he worked for the county from 1989-2001. During his tenure, new state laws on environmental clean up and contamination liability of these sites passed. Sparked by these changes, he helped establish the Grand Traverse Co. Brownfield Redevelopment Corporation in 1997.

Seizing the opportunity provided by new regulations, as well as boosted financial incentives and sources, projects such as River’s Edge in Traverse City went up. The transformation of this former iron works into a mixed-use, in-town development has paved the way for additional brownfield redevelopment projects around the region.

McClelland points to even smaller towns such as East Jordan, where an abandoned building downtown is now a historic office building. That success prompted officials to consider other projects.

“It really was kind of a snowball effect at that point in time, after River’s Edge, where as a result other people stepped up to the plate,”McClelland noted. “(There’s been) a total of 13 projects in the Traverse City area.”

Brownfield redevelopment tucks neatly into the philosophy of revitalizing downtown areas, no matter the size of a town or community. Many of these former water- and waste-intensive manufacturing sites were built decades ago in downtowns.

McClelland views brownfield development incentives as a way to counter the tendency toward developing outside of population centers.

“It has always been easier and often cheaper to build out in greenfields, but what we’re trying to do is level the playing field, so you don’t have all the attendant sprawl.”

The view outside McClelland’s office window is a daily reminder of what is possible when bringing these sites back to life.

“It’s such a gas, as a matter of fact. I have a window that looks at Radio Center and I just remember what was there,” he said. “I could probably just stand in Running Fit and say that’s where the tanks were.

“It’s really fun to see that kind of thing happen and vision come to reality.” BN