Flint, MI—Congressman Dan Kildee recently announced legislation aimed at bringing economic development opportunities to Buick City, a former automotive manufacturing location on the city’s north side.

“We’re here to discuss some new legislation that I’ve introduced to deal with revitalization, economic development, creating new economic opportunities, and environmental renewal right here in my hometown of Flint,” Congressman Kildee said from a podium in Buick City’s parking area March 22.

That legislation, called the “Rust to Revitalization Act,” would allow Buick City and other former industrial and brownfield sites across the country to qualify as Opportunity Zones—the name for qualifying sites in the state’s Opportunity Zone program—so long as they share a border with a current Opportunity Zone.

Industrial Avenue on Flint’s north side, part of the Buick City neighborhood on March 22, 2022. Congressman Dan Kildee announced legislation aimed at bringing economic development opportunities to Buick City during a press conference on March 22, 2022. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

The program was originally created as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to help stimulate investment in older, industrial cities and towns like Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City by giving investors preferential tax treatment on investments in qualifying areas, Kildee explained.

It also incentivizes those investors to hold on to their investments for at least a decade, further stimulating economic growth in and around qualifying Opportunity Zones.

However, Kildee added, “some of the most in-need sites” like Buick City, do not qualify for the program as it stands because such sites have a zero-population census tract, meaning they don’t meet the definition of a “low-income community” in the current legislation. 

“These unoccupied, uninhabited potential opportunity zones could be really good development opportunities with the proper incentive,” he said.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley joined Congressman Kildee in making remarks around the proposed legislation to the assembled press alongside Tyler Rossmaessler, Executive Director of the Flint and Genesee Economic Alliance, and Mona Munroe-Younis, Executive Director of the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint. 

Congressman Dan Kildee announces legislation aimed at bringing economic develpoment opportunities to Buick City in Flint Mich. on March 22, 2022. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“I want to thank you, Congressman Kildee, for introducing legislation to correct this oversight in the Opportunity Zones program so that brownfields like Buick City can benefit from economic development incentives,” Munroe-Younis said. “Flint has a real opportunity to turn Buick City into a place that serves environmental justice—putting Flint on the map for something needed now and in the future, like manufacturing solar panels or electric vehicles, while minimizing environmental impacts on surrounding neighborhoods.”

While Rossmaessler did not wish to name names regarding potential investors for Buick City, he did note that passage of the Rust to Revitalization Act would be greatly beneficial toward any future investment in the site, regardless.

One of the few remaining houses on Industrial Avenue in the Buick City neighborhood in Flint, Mich. on March 22, 2022. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“Establishing this site as an Opportunity Zone is key to helping potential investors see the opportunity here and help them realize tax benefits for making transformational investments,” Rossmaessler said to the assembled press. “And that is a win-win for everyone.”

At its height in the 1980s, Buick City comprised 24 buildings and employed over 26,000 people. The site, now empty of buildings and used for vehicle storage, is currently owned by Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, or RACER, which is currently working to complete the necessary environmental cleanup work for Buick City’s full 413-acres, according to a press release. 

Image of Flint’s Buick City area, estimated to be from the 1920s or ’30s. (Photo courtesy University of Michigan Flint/Genesee Historical Collections Center – Winchell Collection)

The Rust to Revitalization Act has been introduced in the House of Representatives, though the timeline for a vote is not yet clear.

When asked if he believes the act will pass into law, Kildee responded: “We now have a majority that is willing to take this on. And … with a president who’s willing to sign a bill that would make this change—and a House and Senate that would be oriented toward it—I think we finally have a chance to fix it.”

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....