Turning “brownfields” green

Turning “brownfields” green

Tom Darden took a roundabout route to the world of green business. He got a master’s degree in environmental planning at University of North Carolina in the 1970s, wrote a theses about globalization and pollution, and went to Yale Law School to become an environmental lawyer. But he didn’t like lawyering, so he took one detour into consulting at Bain, and then another into his father-in-law’s brick business in Carolina. Today, Darden runs a private equity fund called Cherokee Investment Partners, based in Raleigh, that is riding the green business boom.

“I’ve been incorrectly predicting this for 30 years,” Darden told me last week, when we met for breakfast in Washington. He is self-effacing and soft-spoken man who runs a very big operation—a fund that has raised more than $2.1 billion to clean up “brownfields” and redevelop them. This has several benefits—eliminating eyesores, reducing sprawl, creating jobs and economic development and, often, creating environmentally-friendly buildings and neighborhoods. His partners include Donald Trump, Brad Pitt and green architect Bill McDonough.

Today’s Fortune.com Sustainability column is about Darden and Cherokee. Here’s how it begins:

When General Motors closed down a manufacturing plant in Boisbrand, Quebec, a private investment company called Cherokee Investment Partners bought the tainted industrial site.

After Burlington Mills shuttered a textile factory in Mooresville, N.C., Cherokee acquired the property even though it was contaminated by asbestos and toxic chemicals known as PCBs.

And just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Cherokee and developer Donald Trump are tackling another dirty job. They intend to build homes, apartments, stores and a world-class golf course atop four garbage dumps in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Like a value investor who buys out-of-favor stocks, Cherokee is a real estate investor company that sees opportunity in assets that others don’t want. Based in Raleigh, N. C., Cherokee buys properties known as “brownfields” that have been polluted and abandoned, cleans them up and either sells or redevelops them.

You can read the rest here.