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Buying Brownfield Sites: Risks and Opportunities

photograph of abandoned infrastructure on land

Brownfield sites are defined as previously developed properties that may have been contaminated by hazardous substances or pollutants (such as industrial waste or chemicals). Though brownfield redevelopment involves a fair amount of risk, there are also opportunities available that make brownfield site investment a quality consideration for many real estate developers. In this guide, we will discuss the risks and opportunities associated with purchasing these types of properties.

Risks Associated with Buying Brownfield Sites

As mentioned earlier, one of the main risks associated with purchasing brownfield sites is the potential for contamination. This can lead to environmental liabilities and costly cleanup efforts. In addition, there may be unknown contaminants on the site that could pose a health risk to workers or future occupants of the property.

Another risk is the uncertainty of the true extent of contamination on the site. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to determine the full extent of contamination until after a property has been purchased and further investigation is conducted. This can result in unexpected costs and delays in development or construction plans.

The cost of decontaminating sites can be high, but developers have significant tax relief options on both the federal and local levels when they decontaminate brownfield sites. For example, the EPA's Brownfields Program provides grants to promote the cleanup and reuse of brownfields. Similarly, most states have provisions that allow brownfield buyers to negotiate important indemnities and cleanup agreements that can help navigate the landscape, shorten the time for remediation, and protect purchasers from liability associated with existing damages caused by contaminated sites.

Opportunities for Redeveloping Brownfield Sites

Despite these risks, there are also many opportunities and potential advantages for the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Brownfield sites have the potential for cost savings and maximum return on investment. These properties often have valuable infrastructure already in place, such as roads, utilities, and buildings. This can save developers time and money compared to starting from scratch on undeveloped property.

In addition, redeveloping brownfield sites can bring new life to underutilized or abandoned areas. It can also promote sustainable development by repurposing existing infrastructure and reducing urban sprawl. Many communities are actively seeking to revitalize brownfield sites in order to attract businesses and create jobs, making it easier for developers to gain planning permission.

Mitigating Risks

It is important to thoroughly assess and mitigate risks when considering purchasing a brownfield site. Risk mitigation plays a critical role in ensuring the successful transformation of brownfield sites. Effective risk mitigation involves compliance with applicable regulations and the involvement of stakeholders, including government agencies, local communities, and environmental experts. These partnerships are crucial in overseeing the redevelopment process. It also involves conducting thorough environmental assessments, obtaining appropriate insurance coverage, and negotiating with the seller for any necessary cleanup or remediation efforts.

Effective financial risk mitigation plays a crucial role in brownfield redevelopment. The expenses associated with remediating and revitalizing contaminated sites can be substantial. Developers can minimize financial risks by conducting thorough cost-benefit analyses and exploring various funding options. This may involve pursuing grants, tax incentives, or forging public-private partnerships to distribute the financial burden. By implementing meticulous planning and astute financial management, costs can be minimized, returns can be maximized, and the long-term sustainability of the brownfield redevelopment project can be ensured.


Brownfield redevelopment plays a crucial role in revitalizing unused or polluted lands, transforming them into sustainable and vibrant spaces. By repurposing these sites, communities can stimulate economic growth, enhance environmental quality, and improve community well-being. Brownfield redevelopment presents an opportunity to leverage existing infrastructure, curb urban sprawl, and foster a more inclusive and resilient future.

Brownfields are common, and they are located throughout the country. LandGate's PowerData toolkit contains a full map of brownfield sites across the United States.

Coming Soon: Contamination risk scores will soon be available for every U.S. property using our LandApp tool:


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