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Greenfield vs. Brownfield: What’s Better for Your Manufacturing Facility?

In the site selection process, greenfield versus brownfield is a major decision. Should you build a facility on a greenfield site, which is typically cleaner than a brownfield site but often further from town? Or, should you choose a brownfield site within the city limits, which is closer to infrastructure, but may come with possible costly issues such as environmental remediation?

Twenty years ago this was an easier decision — greenfield sites were more abundant and closer to town; brownfields were risky to develop and time-consuming and expensive to clean up. Now, however, the decision is not just about cost and the construction timeline, but also image. There is plenty of brand appreciation and social good developed when a company commits to a community by transforming one of its highly visible but maybe less appealing properties into a facility that becomes one of the most attractive buildings in the area.


FACT: Gray has provided engineering, architecture, and construction services on more than 1,475 manufacturing facilities.
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Greenfield Sites


Greenfield sites are undeveloped areas within or outside a city, typically on agricultural land. They are often sought after for the construction of manufacturing plants and other commercial projects because they are uncomplicated and straightforward for construction.


Advantages include:

  • Design flexibility for meeting project requirements
  • Room to expand for future growth
  • Can be leased or owned
  • Construction timelines are typically faster


Disadvantages include:

  • Infrastructure installation often required
  • Further away from the city and its services
  • Longer commutes for workers
  • May be viewed as urban sprawl and a negative environmental impact


Brownfield Sites


Brownfields are abandoned, underutilized or contaminated properties. Redeveloping these properties into productive projects mitigates environmental impacts, provides tax revenue and improves the social foundation of these communities. However, brownfields may take longer to develop and could involve more risk.


Advantages include:

  • Reduces sprawl and destruction of greenspace
  • Contributes to redevelopment of a city section
  • Existing, usable infrastructure may already be in place
  • Improves brand image by investing in the city and being good environmental stewards
  • Grants and other incentives help pay for clean-up and improvements


Disadvantages include:

  • Development could be complicated by discovery of toxic contaminants
  • Generally longer construction timelines
  • Older structures may not meet structural requirements and building codes
  • Higher risk of cost overruns due to unexpected developments
  • Potential space constraints may limit expansion and slow down construction


Smart-growth land-use strategies often target redevelopment of brownfield properties, with a focus on “infilling”— cleaning up and marketing run-down, abandoned brownfield properties within the city limits, often in a historic, industrial section. This improves a city’s chances of landing a new company, especially as available greenfield properties dwindle in number and move further outside the city.


“Shovel-Ready” Levels the Playing Field


Deciding on greenfield sites versus brownfield sites typically comes down to risk tolerance and what best fits your manufacturing needs. Brownfield sites are often viewed as higher risk (and therefore higher cost) because of their history. However, cities and states have become much more proactive by paying for the due diligence (and the improvements) required to make these properties “certified” or “shovel ready.” This includes planning, zoning, surveys, title work, environmental studies, soils analysis and public infrastructure engineering completed — even before the site is available for purchase. This process removes much of the risk of building on brownfields, often making them more competitive when compared to greenfield sites — especially if a company feels strongly about having a visible presence in an established area.


If you have any further questions regarding the selection of Greenfield vs. Brownfield for your next manufacturing facility, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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