SPDC Faculty Q&A: Dr. Rex LaMore discusses abandoned property research

A new report released by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers Dr. Rex LaMore and Michelle LeBlanc drew national attention on July 3, 2013.

A new report released by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers Dr. Rex LaMore and Michelle LeBlanc drew national attention on July 3, 2013, as the two proposed "blight insurance" to combat future abandoned properties. 

The study aims to eliminate the burden of removing blight from tax-paying citizens by mandating that companies purchase specialized insurance to cover the costs of future abandonment. Dr. LaMore, the Director of the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development and a faculty member of the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction’s (SPDC) Urban & Regional Planning (URP) Program, insists that the policy must be instituted at the federal level in order to obtain the necessary pool of insurers and maintain the competitive economic balance between states. 

Dr. LaMore conversed with SPDC Communications about how the idea came about and the next steps for the project. 

What inspired this approach to abandonment?
I sit on a local planning commission in the area and at a meeting it was being discussed as whether or not to allow a cell tower in the community. It was brought up in that local governments are legally able to require a bond for cell towers to ensure funding for deconstruction at the end of the useful life of the tower. This discussion led me to question if this could be applied to commercial and industrial facilities. I then approached Ms. LeBlanc [an SPDC student] about pursuing research on this topic and we applied for funding through for the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Initiative. 

What challenges did you encounter when you began researching this topic?
There are large data gaps when it comes to putting numbers to the scale and scope of abandonment of commercial and industrial structures in Michigan. The numbers for abandoned facilities seem to be estimates or relatively nonexistent. A second challenge was identifying a cost estimate for deconstruction. There are several factors that go into the cost of deconstruction of a facility (i.e., location, size, building materials, risk of contamination, use) and it is difficult to determine an average cost when there are so many factors.

Have you received feedback from other researchers or policy makers in this field? If so, what is their reaction to this idea?
In March, we conducted a focus group with several business owners, nonprofit leaders and other researchers to vet the idea. We received mostly positive feedback but with the obvious question from business owners of “how much will this cost me?.” We have spoken with leaders at the Michigan Municipal League who think this may be something that could be both positive and necessary for Michigan. The recent release of the report to various media outlets has caused a stir of discussions from the general public, those whose tax dollars are being used for funding demolition projects, and a strong sense of support. We do note there does seem to be a real lack of scholarly activity on how to end the cycle of abandonment.

In your opinion, what should be the next steps at the state and federal government level to act on this idea?
In our opinion, there should be further research at the state and/or federal level to identify the policy specifics and collaboration with the insurance sector to identify how this policy would be created to provide answers to the question of costs to those in the private business industry. We would ideally like to see this policy be implemented at the federal level but would welcome the movement if a state leader was to take action on this idea.

What are your next steps for this project?
Our next steps are to pursue an avenue for furthering this idea. We welcome the opportunity to present and share our report and policy proposal to share knowledge with others regarding our mission, as well as receive feedback that may strengthen our proposal. Finally, research to funding to pursue the future of this policy and see answers to some of the very specific nuances that this presents. As good planners, we wish to avoid any “unintended” consequences as much as reasonably possible by doing our due diligence.

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