Another parcel of barren brownfields land along the heavily industrial Passaic River corridor will eventually be reclaimed for productive use following a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for a 350,000-square foot warehouse/distribution center.
Officials turned spades of dirt at 60 Lister Ave. to kick off construction of the 17-acre facility, which is being built through a partnership between the city and The Morris Companies of Rutherford. About 800 will be employed during the construction phase while another 200 and possibly as many as 400 jobs will be created once the facility opens in 18 months, said Mark Bava, executive vice president of The Morris Companies.
“We’re transforming despair into hope, because in the worst economy in my lifetime, here we are at projects like this that will create hundreds and hundreds of jobs,” said Mayor Cory Booker. “Hundreds of construction jobs, hundreds of permanent jobs, through the PLA [project labor agreement] and working with our partners.”
Among those attending the ceremony at the windswept site Tuesday was John Leslie, the co-director of , a city organization that helps formerly absentee dads, many of whom had served time in prison, reconnect with their children.
Leslie said many of his organization’s clients are very interested in gaining work at the facility.
“We want to hook up with some job opportunities, warehouse-style jobs,” Leslie said. “We have a lot of guys who have warehouse experience.”
East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador vowed Tuesday to see that many of those jobs are filled by Newark residents, including the skill positions required to build the facility. Amador said he is pushing for a training program that would serve minority candidates in particular.
The property where the facility is being built was first used by paint manufacturer Sherwin Williams in 1910. What happened next at 60 Lister Ave. is an all-too-familiar tale in Newark: the company eventually shuttered its operations at the site, leaving nothing but acres of contaminated soil behind. The site “was dormant literally for decades,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Zipkin, who spearheads the city’s redevelopment efforts.
In the late 1990s, Sherwin Williams began cleaning up the property, but even after it was largely remediated, 60 Lister Ave. remained vacant. Officials said they saw an opportunity.
“I would drive down the Turnpike and I would see these distribution centers in places like Cranbury, other places, and I would say to myself, ‘something’s not right,” Amador said. “I live in the city of Newark, and here we have the port. Why drive this stuff from the port down to Cranbury?”
Eventually, Amador, the Brick City Development Corp., executives at Morris as well as state officials came up with a plan to revive the property. The New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, a state agency, approved a low-interest loan of $17.3 million to the city. That money will be used by Morris to build the facility, which will cost at least $43 million in total, The Morris Companies’ Bava said, with the remaining funds being provided by Morris.
Although no companies have yet committed to using the warehouse, Bava said there have been expressions of interest and that the scope of the project may increase, meaning there may be up to 400 permanent jobs instead of the minimum 200 anticipated.
Booker praised the company, which is expected to repay the loan to the city via payments in lieu of taxes, for building the warehouse “on spec.”
Tuesday’s groundbreaking may herald more projects to come, officials also said. Other brownfield sites are being cleaned up and readied to be used once again for commercial purposes.
“I want this deal to be done again. The model can be replicated,” said Lyneir Richardson of the Brick City Development Corp.