The firm that has been working to redevelop a contaminated industrial site near Mount Holly says it now has 10 companies operating there.
Those consist of start-up businesses and pilot projects that employ a total of 40 to 45 people. Officials say they are demonstrating the potential of ReVenture Park to further attract economic development and create more green energy jobs in the future.
“It’s becoming an entrepreneurial incubator,” said Tom McKittrick, president of Forsite Development, a commercial real estate firm redeveloping the site. “Our goal from the beginning was to take a shuttered manufacturing plant that has very heavy infrastructure and reposition the buildings to create recycling-based projects.
“Now five years later, it’s starting to come together quickly.”
The strides at ReVenture Park were recognized Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It awarded an Excellence in Site Reuse award for officials who redeveloped the former Superfund site into the region’s first eco-industrial park.
ReVenture Park is the 667-acre location of a former textile dye-manufacturing complex. It’s in Mecklenburg County, directly across the Catawba River from Mount Holly.
In 1983, the land there was deemed contaminated enough to be placed on the federal Superfund list for cleanup. The site also came under scrutiny in 1988 for its treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes.
In March 2013, Forsite Development succeeded in having the property accepted into the N.C. Brownfields Program. That opened the door to redevelopment without new occupants being held responsible for the contamination, which is still being cleaned up.
“We’re basically recycling this entire site, if you will,” McKittrick said.
One aspect of what Forsite Development is doing now involves green energy production. It is creating energy using biomass, instead of coal or nuclear technology.
One technique, for example, involves using wood to create a gas that can be direct-fired into a generator, McKittrick said.
Generators at the site are creating electricity that Forsite is putting on the grid. The firm has contracts in place that involve Duke Energy and ElectriCities buying the renewable energy credits Forsite creates.
Forsite has also established a 185-acre conservation easement on the property.
“We plan to expand that substantially along the Catawba River,” McKittrick said.
Casting a lure for green fish
Since early last year, Forsite has been carrying out “selective demolition and cleanup,” McKittrick said. It has an abundance of inexpensive industrial space it can offer green-energy companies trying to get off the ground.
“It’s at a very low cost, and free rent in some cases, which helps enable those projects,” he said.
The 10 start-ups in place now run the gamut in terms of what they’re doing. One is expanding on a project conceived at UNC Charlotte, which involves using wood instead of corn to create ethanol.
Another agriculture/biotech company is creating a lightweight, ballistic armor made from organic material — specifically, spider silk, McKittrick said.
Yet another ReVenture tenant, EV Fleet, has developed the first highway-ready, light-duty electric pickup truck.
The company is beginning to take orders and expects to be manufacturing in the near future with 20 to 30 trucks per day, McKittrick said.
“They have 12 employees and will have double that in the next 60 days,” he said.
McKittrick said the EPA award is gratifying and demonstrates ReVenture Park is finally cresting the hill. He sees it continuing on the momentum it has built.
“It’s been a long, uphill battle, but we can definitely say the site is being put back to productive use and promoting the clean-energy economy,” he said. “I’m having conversations literally every week with other companies interested in locating here.”
10 start-up companies and pilot projects operating at ReVenture Park:
Entogentics – Ag-biotech start-up creating ballistic vests woven from spider silk, which is five times tougher than DuPont’s Kevlar vest material.
EV Fleet – Developing the first highway-ready, electric light pickup truck. Models will be the size of a Ford Ranger, with a 1,000-pound payload and a range of more than 100 miles between charges.
FC Organics – Takes charcoal from an on-site energy unit and mixes it with food waste from the NASCAR Hall of Fame to create a beneficial soil amendment.
Graceful Roots – High-end landscape design firm working with FC Organics to test the charcoal soil amendments for use in their business.
Sustainable Ethanol Technologies – UNC Charlotte scientists working on technology that allows low-cost production of ethanol from wood waste.
TerraMarCo – Company with rights to distribute technology in Africa, offices on site at ReVenture Park and in Washington D.C.
Bio-Energy Farms – Transforming roughly 320 acres on site into fields of energy crops that can be used as for renewable energy and fuel projects.
Duckweed Ponds – Using a 35-acre containment basin at ReVenture Park, originally designed to hold 360 million gallons of water, in a new system
aimed at creating biomass for energy production.
Waste Knot Wood – Turns non-recyclable pallets and wood crating materials into wood fuel for the biomass power units at ReVenture Park.
The RenNewable Gas Co. – Partnered with Forsite Development to bring a pair of biomass projects to generate enough renewable energy to power more than 3,000 homes.