June 15, 2016 In northwest Charlotte along the Catawba River, on the once heavily polluted home of a former textile dye manufacturer, a variety of alternative energy and recycling businesses are sprouting at an innovative commercial real-estate development. There’s an aquaculture project producing duckweed, which can be used as feed for animals or fisheries. Nearby, a habitat restoration project aimed at promoting pollination has taken root, along with a greenhouse that uses compost and worms to produce high-quality soil. A $40 million project is expected to be announced this summer.

Since opening in 2014, ReVenture Park has become a leader in the blossoming era of eco-industrial parks. Such parks cater to businesses that work with one another and the local community to cut waste and pollution and efficiently share resources. One company’s byproduct, for example, may become another firm’s feedstock. ReVenture Park was developed by Charlotte-based Forsite Development, though founder Tom McKittrick didn’t start with the goal of creating green-collar jobs. He kicked off Forsite in 2004 to buy corporate surplus industrial real estate and attract new companies that were expanding or relocating to the Southeast. He’d gotten the idea when working for Carmel, Ind.-based Lauth Property Group as he drove around the Carolinas and noticed the abundance of warehouses and industrial buildings left in the wake of manufacturing’s exodus overseas. He opened Lauth’s first Southeast office.

He originally sought out buildings with high ceilings and located on major interstates that could be easily rehabbed and filled with new tenants. Then the Great Recession arrived and debt dried up. Pondering his next move, McKittrick thought about the shuttered plant sites he’d passed over that had critical infrastructure such as on-site power generation, central steam plants, wastewater treatment and rail access. He started thinking about how this infrastructure could be repurposed to attract more sustainable business, including renewable energy. That thinking led Foresite to develop a 667-acre former Superfund site in northwest Charlotte, the former Sandoz Chemical Corp. plant (later known as the Martin-Marietta/Sodyeco or Clariant Corp.) renamed ReVenture Park. McKittrick’s ReVenture Park Investment I LLC paid $2.34 million for about 304 acres, according to a Charlotte Business Journal report in 2011.

McKittrick’s initial projections of $900 million in new investment and 1,100 jobs haven’t panned out yet: one key reason was Mecklenburg County’s 2011 decision to cancel a planned $200 million project to use garbage and yard waste for a power plant after Sierra Club objections. But the developer has soldiered on, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave ReVenture its “Excellence in Site Reuse Award” in 2014. McKittrick’s optimistic that momentum is building as sustainability and alternative energy become more entrenched business themes.