Bringing closed gas stations back to life

Old gas stations will take center stage at the New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference.
Left to right: Garage Bar, Louisville, KY; Red Truck Bakery, Warrenton, VA.

The first ever New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference begins Tuesday, June 3, in Orlando, Florida. Gas station sites may be small, but they pack a big redevelopment punch for the neighborhoods surrounding them.

The number of gas stations in the U.S. has declined every year since 2002, and there were 23% fewer places to buy gas in 2012 than there were in 1994. Typically in highly-visible locations along commercial corridors, these sites can be an asset for investors and local governments who want to make a big impression with limited redevelopment dollars. Prominent locations and interesting architecture have made old gas stations attractive to investors seeking a strong sense of place to anchor up-and-coming blocks.

But many—if not most—of the nation’s closed gas stations have bigger hurdles to overcome on their way to reuse. The cost of removing underground storage tanks may be prohibitive. Fear of discovering pollution may keep owners from putting sites on the market. Many closed service stations are in weaker markets with little investment in real estate—let alone reinvestment in potential problem sites.

An abandoned gas station  on one of the most visible corners in Poplar, MT.
An abandoned gas station on one of the most visible corners in Poplar, MT.

The New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference brings together the regulators, landowners, public- and private-sector developers and environmental justice advocates who know what goes into the complex process of reclaiming closed gas station sites.

“Everyone has their shoulder to the wheel to overcome risk and realize public benefit,” according to Michael Goldstein, an environmental attorney and Director of the Goldstein Brownfields Foundation. According to Goldstein, this first-ever conference will provide a forum for professionals from different states and different sectors to learn from each other’s successes.