Redevelopment expert: Area attorney helps communities rebound

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In 1993, when environmental law was in its infancy, Neil Silver raised his hand when the bank he worked for asked for volunteers to become experts in this field.

It was a serendipitous move for Silver, who gained most of his corporate real estate and financial institution knowledge from this first employer, owner of a small financial institution and several commercial and residential rental properties.

Now highly regarded as one of Southeast Michigan’s leading experts on the subject, Silver quickly became a registered lobbyist and chairman of the Michigan Bankers Association Environmental Affairs Committee.   

“It was really fun—I enjoyed trying to make lawmakers understand what’s necessary to protect the environment but to also let people buy and sell real estate to let the economy grow,” he says.    
“This was my favorite part of my job out of everything I’ve done, specifically what I would call quasi-lobbying. I wasn’t buying anyone meals or anything, but I was trying to and succeeding to convince the legislature to overhaul our environmental laws. Working non-stop and using only persuasion and logic, I was able to create incentives for people to take risks on contaminated properties, which wasn’t easy.

“After the law eventually was pushed through in 1995, Attorney General Kelly gave me, in my mind—but certainly not his—praise in a press release stating that lobbyists, in particular the bankers, emasculated the environmental laws in Michigan. I still keep a copy in my desk to this day. But here we are a quarter-century later and the laws are still working, only having been expanded upon rather than contracted.”

Now the newest member at the Bloomfield Hills firm of Dawda, Mann, Mulcahy & Sadler, Silver specializes in real estate law, environmental law, corporate law and banking; is counsel for several local and national financial institutions, as well as for certified development corporations; and is designated counsel for the Small Business Administration (SBA).

“To qualify for an SBA loan, you have to show a conventional loan isn’t available, like a creative way of loaning money,” he explains. “What we’re doing is helping someone who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to expand their business or take a risk on a business. With the goal in mind of providing financing to increase jobs, the program has been successful and has proven to be extremely beneficial.”

He sums up his passion for environmental law in one word— redevelopment.“As lawyers, we don’t build anything, we push paper, or we litigate,” he says. “But in economic redevelopment, there may be an abandoned warehouse or a contaminated facility, and we may be able to turn that into something tangible and beneficial to everyone. At the end of the day, I get to drive by and actually see something I took part in.”

One of those places is Taylor, 18 miles southwest of Detroit, the 17th most populous city in Michigan, and a member of the Downriver community. “When I first started in this field, the existing uses of the Taylor corridor, up and down Telegraph, weren’t exactly what you would call desirable,” Silver says.

“Using the available economic redevelopment tools, we were able to get developers and businesses to take risks on older, possibly contaminated properties who demolished the under-utilized building and put up state-of-the-art facilities. Taylor now looks a lot different than when I started!”

Silver, whose previous roles include general counsel for Sterling Bank and as vice president in the Law Department of NBD Bank, has testified numerous times before the House and Senate subcommittees on environmental issues, and authored several current state and federal statutes.

He enjoys dealing with challenges on a daily basis.

“No cookie cutters for me,”’ he says. “I’ve done this for more than 30 years and I still enjoy the challenge. It makes you think and come up with a creative solution to close the deal in the best interest of the client.”

Fascinated with the law from a young age. Silver earned his undergrad degree in political science, with honors, from Michigan State University, with a minor in history— “Specifically, British constitutional law, which of course only piqued my interest in law,” he says.

He went on to earn his J.D., with honors, from what is now Detroit Mercy Law, relishing the school’s central location in the Motor City.

“I’ve always enjoyed downtown Detroit, with memories going all the way back to the 60s of my grandmother taking me on the bus to J. L. Hudson’s to see the holiday decorations in the window,” he says.

The Detroit native has made his home in Troy for three decades, with his wife Jennifer. Their son Matthew followed him into the law and is an assistant attorney general, and younger son Cody works in marketing.

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