From Steel to Wind and Sprouts: Transforming a Brownfield In Baltimore Harbor For the Future

The Sparrows Point Steel Mill after it shut down in 2012.      Photo: CBS News Baltimore

E&E News reported last week on the industrial rebirth happening at Sparrows Point, Maryland on the site of historic steel mill strategically located on Baltimore Harbor.  It is an amazing story of how a real estate firm, local officials and wind companies are investing “hundreds of millions of dollars in port upgrades to support the burgeoning offshore wind industry” with the goal of developing “a staging area for assembling wind turbines that will be moved to nearby offshore sites” that may also “one day be home to a manufacturing facility for turbine parts.”  And just recently, it has also sprouted a 100,000 square-foot hydroponic greenhouse to supply lettuce to retail, restaurant and foodservice customers in 10 states throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions.

Why This Matters:  The history of this site makes its transformation that much more significant as an example of what could be in so many other faded industrial sites. The area was first developed as a steel mill in the 1880s, and, according to, when Bethlehem Steel purchased it in 1916 it became the world’s largest steel-producing center “where girders for the Golden Gate, George Washington and Bay bridges, as well as steel for shipbuilding during the World Wars, was produced.”  But once the American steel boom ended, the whole area went downhill fast, and it was left is a polluted mess when the company declaring bankruptcy in 2012.  Now thanks to incentives provided by the State of Maryland, two wind huge projects — Ørsted A/S’s Delaware wind project Skipjack and U.S. Wind’s MarWin project  — are anchoring the transformation of Sparrows Point.  State and local officials are hoping “to cash in on the big offshore wind promises made by states up and down the East Coast.”  So are the site’s real estate developers who believe the “best way to develop in the United States is to turn “blighted” assets from the country’s manufacturing past into new industry.”  Amen to that.

Steel to Wind

According to E&E News, much of the former industrial complex remains a wasteland.  But what remains is key to its future success — the area already has roads, sewers, and ties to the grid, not to mention its central location on the coast where rail, highways, and the deep water port all come together.  At first, the community of holdovers from its days as a mill town was not happy about the new wind industry because, according to E&E, it “is politically distant from traditional industries like steel.”  But as development starts to pick up there, the tide seems to have turned — Ørsted and U.S. Wind must create 5,000 jobs with their and spend at least $110 million in port upgrades and other local steel investments.  The developers have brought in big companies like Amazon that opened a fulfillment center on the site, and even hope to attract other manufacturing there.  Sparrows Point’s developers hope to win the race to become the center of the wind supply chain for the Mid-Atlantic.

Steel to Sprouts

The Gotham Greens facility is the seventh of its kind nationwide — its greenhouse uses hydroponic systems and is 100 percent powered by renewable energy, and it uses 95 % less water and 97 % less land than conventional farming. Moreover, because of Gotham’s high tech, data-driven tools, it is also one of the highest-yielding, most energy-efficient indoor farming systems today.

Photo: Julie McMahon, Gotham Greens

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