U.S. Mayor Article

Trenton and Mercer County Collaborate to Redevelop Brownfields


August 13, 2001


New Jersey's state capital, Trenton, was historically one of the nation's premiere manufacturing centers, turning out steel cable, ceramics, refrigerator cabinets, electrical components, rubber goods, cigars and automobiles. After the collapse of the manufacturing industry, there were dozens of brownfield sites remaining, ranging from abandoned gas stations on less than an acre to vacant run-down buildings covering twenty-three acres of land. Local planners estimated that brownfields covered 330 acres, about seven percent of the city. There were also residential areas located in depressed industrial areas further impeding redevelopment efforts.

Trenton responded by formulating an aggressive redevelopment strategy that utilizes site inventory, which has enabled the city to pinpoint brownfields and identify redevelopment opportunities. A systematic effort began in 1993 to restore these sites to productive use with the city directing and approving over thirty brownfield redevelopment projects for a variety of end uses. In cooperation with the City of Trenton, Mercer County has undertaken brownfield redevelopment projects in Trenton, including a 10,000-seat arena built at the site of the former Roebling Steel Works and a 7,500-seat minor league baseball stadium along the Delaware River. These projects have created hundreds of new jobs and housing units for the city while restoring abandoned and underutilized property.

Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer states, "It's critical for Trenton and Mercer County to work together on brownfields redevelopment if we are to capitalize on the tremendous opportunities open to us for private investment and economic revitalization." Trenton and Mercer County have essentially run out of places for development with brownfields being the only possible sites for new development. Mercer County executive Robert D. Prunetti said, "Through our partnership with the city of Trenton on brownfields redevelopment, we are fostering the future development of the city while at the same time ensuring the continued protection of its environment and residents."

Mercer County Improvement Authority development director Al Collins states, "With open space preservation as a top priority in Mercer County, development of any kind is looked at under close scrutiny." He says that large corporations like Merrill Lynch are expressing an interest in locating in Mercer County. The end result is that the city and the county both share the goal of improving Trenton through brownfields redevelopment. Equity issues are also important, since Mercer County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, while Trenton is one of the nation's poorest cities, located in the heart of Mercer County and the state capital. Leah Yasenchak, from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency stated, "Beyond reasons having to do with finding more developable space, there's also an interest on the part of both the city and the county in putting more resources into Trenton to try and create more equality of income."

Roebling Block 3 is a city/county cooperative effort to redevelop brownfields by Trenton and Mercer County. This block of land is located across the street from the county's new arena and is owned by the city. In the process of building its new multi-sports arena, the county realized that sufficient parking space needed to be allocated in order to handle the crowds the arena would attract. One of the sites identified was Roebling Block 3, which was already under remediation by the city along with several vacant buildings on the block, when the county approached the city. Trenton agreed to allow the county to use the Roebling Block 3 site for surface parking. The county assisted in site remediation by tearing down some of the older buildings, while the city was responsible for oversight of the remediation phase. The remediation also included the removal of three underground storage containers.

The biggest problem encountered was synchronizing redevelopment timetables. The problem was overcome by finding temporary parking until the city was able to remediate the soil to the state's environmental standards. Currently, the remaining area along the Roebling Block 3 site is underdeveloped with the city crafting disposition agreements with potential developers on two of the buildings. The county has weighed in with an alternative proposal, with a feasibility study being conducted to determine the best and highest uses for the area that possibly include a YMCA, an exposition center, and children's "touch" museum.

The collaboration on this project has opened the doors of communication for other projects, and has led to a Memorandum of Understanding covering redevelopment projects around the arena, waterfront and capitol. Specifically, it designates the county as the lead agency to develop projects in the Waterfront Park area, the Cass Street residential area, and the Roebling complex within what is called the "Arena Improvement District." The city is the lead agency for projects developed around the new hotel and conference center, the train station, and the rest of the Roebling complex. The agreements implementation includes setting up a joint task force to review projects prior to their being submitted for local planning board review and approval.

Contact Information:

Leah Yasenchak
EPA Brownfields Coordinator
City of Trenton
V: (609) 989-4238
E: yasenchak.leah@epa.gov

Allan C. Collins
Director of Project Development
Mercer County Improvement Authority
V: (609) 278-8100
E: acollins@mercercounty.org

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