Redeveloping Vacant Gas Stations

by Shelbey Senkewitz
Mar 30, 2020

Gas Station blog

At one time, gas stations were an important fixture of major intersections, thoroughfares, and rural communities across the United States. Over the past few decades, however, the number of stations has steadily been declining, in part because of decreasing gasoline profit margins and stricter environmental regulations. For instance, compare the nearly 231,000 gas stations present throughout the country in 1940 (NACS Magazine) to the 126,735 in 1997 and 111,076 in 2016 (American FactFinder).

As a result of these closures, hundreds of former gas stations now stand vacant, abandoned, or repurposed for some unintended use. Chances are that you've probably seen at least one in or around your community, marked by pavement overrun with weeds and a dilapidated building and canopy. The question has become what can be done with these underutilized, often blighted and dangerous properties.

Vacant former gas stations are a common brownfield issue that many Michigan communities face. One of the most significant challenges to redeveloping these sites is the potential for contamination to be present from previous fueling and other automotive operations. Threats include petroleum spills, leaking underground storage tanks, vapor intrusion, hydraulic lifts, and other redevelopment barriers. Assessing and cleaning up these sites can be expensive, making redevelopment difficult for developers and smaller communities with limited budgets. Moreover, these properties are usually small, so environmental costs can sometimes outweigh the cost of the property itself.

With over 30 years of working in Michigan and the surrounding region, Envirologic is the right team to help clients tackle these complex projects. Our seasoned Environmental Investigation and Remediation Group has extensive experience leveraging state and federal funding sources on numerous project sites. Michigan, in particular, has well-funded programs that can assist in the redevelopment of petroleum-contaminated sites; one common method is through a Refined Petroleum Fund grant to a local unit of government, brownfield redevelopment authority, or county land bank authority, which can help fund assessment and cleanup. Michigan's robust Brownfield Redevelopment incentives provide additional resources for funding. For more information, check out our info sheet on Funding Sources for Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) sites.

Despite the challenges surrounding these sites, old gas stations present great opportunities for reuse. Many of these properties are in prime locations -- often at corners of prominent, high-traffic intersections, with frontage on multiple roads -- that appeal to developers and businesses. Further, these redevelopment projects benefit local communities by reducing blight, returning underutilized properties to productive use, and protecting public health and the environment through site cleanup.

One of the notable former gas station sites that Envirologic has worked on is the BIGGBY® COFFEE site in Portage, Michigan. A brief description of the project and services we provided can be found here.

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