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New Center's Piquette Square veterans' home wins national brownsfield redevelopment award

The redevelopment of the old Detroit Studebaker plant into permanently supported housing for once-homeless veterans has won Southwest Solutions the nation's premiere award for brownfield redevelopment. Upon winning the 2010 Phoenix Community Impact Award for Excellence in Brownfield Development, Southwest Housing Solutions satisfied a need -- providing a stable home and social services to a portion of the estimated 4,000 veterans on the streets of Detroit -- while utilizing cutting-edge environmental and architectural design.

New Center's Piquette Square living facility, located on the corner of Piquette and Brush, completely filled its 150 units within 60 days of opening in July 2010. But opening the living facility, at a cost of $23 million, was itself a 5-year process. The land, which housed the Studebaker factory before a 2004 fire, was contaminated with an oil pit, underground utilities, petroleum products and volatile organic materials. Meeting a residential use standard required removing over 50,000 tons of contaminated soil and installing a sub-slab ventilation and vapor barrier system.

"Location is key. In order to find a piece of land like that, which was three acres or more, in close proximity to the John Dingell VA Hospital for services. You can't just shove a bunch of potentially homeless people in the middle of nowhere," says Southwest Housing Solutions' Steve Gabrys. "They've got to be integrated in the area, with the potential of job opportunities and so forth. What it comes down to, we had to redevelop a brownfield."

Cleaning up a contaminated site isn't Piquette Square's only nod toward environmental sustainability. The building itself is powered by a geothermal heating and cooling system, which Gabrys says reduces both environmental waste and dependency on public utilities. There's also a light reflective roof, insulated walls, and floors made of recycled material. "It's maintaining your operating costs going forward, and it's also about doing the right thing," Gabrys says.

"At the end of the day, it's not the real estate on this one, it's the people who live in the building," Gabrys says.

Source: Steve Gabrys, Real Estate Development Director, Southwest Housing Solutions
Writer: Ashley C. Woods
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