From abandoned factories to fancy lofts, this startup is rejuvenating vacant land

by Andreas Rekdal
February 26, 2016

Have you ever driven by a creepy abandoned gas station and wondered why no one is making better use of the property?

Abandoned gas stations, along with dry cleaning facilities and larger industrial properties such as chemical plants and factories, can be hard to repurpose for other uses because they are suspected — correctly or otherwise — to have been exposed to hazardous waste or pollution.

Known as “brownfield land” among city planners and developers, many of these properties are perfectly salvageable — they may even become home to your fast-growing startup. They just need some extra love and attention.

is a Chicago-based startup looking to put these underappreciated properties back into productive use.

Founded by a real estate lawyer and a developer with a finance background, the company provides an online marketplace for buyers, sellers and contractors who do work on the aforementioned properties. On its site, municipalities and corporations alike can list redevelopment projects up for bidding and properties for sale, along with the documentation needed to assess the property’s redevelopment needs.

In many cases, the cost of redeveloping a property can be lower than expected.

“Sometimes these properties don’t necessarily have any issues, but they have the characteristics that require them to have some sort of environmental assessment done,” said co-founder and COO Timothy Hansen.

Though few outside the industry are familiar with the term, brownfield properties comprise a huge portion of commercial and industrial real estate. Working as an attorney and environmental consultant for Fortune 500 industrial firms, co-founder and CEO Dan French transacted over a billion dollars’ worth of brownfield properties over the course of his career. Official statistics are spotty, but Hansen estimates that the designation may apply to as much as 10 percent of the commercial and industrial real estate market.

Since dealing in brownfield properties requires more due diligence than your average real estate transaction, existing property listing sites are poorly equipped to handle them. Seeing a real need for listing tools that address this underserved sub-industry’s specific concerns, co-founders French and Hansen decided to go all in.

Their solution is a marketplace specifically tailored to promote transparency about potential issues with a property. By taking uncertainties out of the equation, they help property owners find the right buyers and service providers, breathing new life into properties that would otherwise have become eyesores.

Since the launch of its public beta in 2015, the founders have received positive feedback from users both in the public and the private sector. To date, they have hundreds of municipalities and organizations signed up for its service — which is run on a subscription model — all across the nation. They also have a portfolio in Puerto Rico.

Working out of the Ukrainian Village, the bootstrapped four-member team is currently in the process of finalizing its first round of funding. Their eventual hope is to remove the stigma associated with brownfield properties, which Hansen believes will be key to helping reduce urban sprawl into suburbs, exurbs, and former green spaces.

“The movement is coming back into the cities, and as that’s happening, we’re putting together redevelopment as being the new normal,” said Hansen. “That’s where we see this going, and we think there’s a lot of opportunity in the space.”

Images via Brownfield Listings and Shutterstock.

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