December 5, 2016

Shovel ready in Gardner

The former site of the S. Bent & Brothers Co. manufacturing facility in Gardner is being redeveloped using money from the MassDevelopment brownfield fund and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Gardner Redevelopment Authority and the City of Gardner are undertaking a $1.8-million cleanup of a former metals facility as the groups continue to prepare the area for commercial investment.

The project will include remediation and restoration of soils at the former Garbose Metals Facility at 155 Mill St. The work will extend through spring of next year, but lay the groundwork for a shovel-ready site for developers.

"The Gardner Redevelopment Authority is pleased to play a key role in transforming this brownfield site into a shovel-ready development opportunity," GRA Chairman Ronald Cormier said in a statement announcing the final part in a $2.3-million cleanup effort.

Brownfield? Sounds nasty

They can be. More often, though, they are just overgrown industrial areas with some form of hidden contamination that makes them too much of a liability for the private industry to step in and redevelop. Think slag runoff from metalworks or buried gasoline tanks.

The GRA and the city work together to obtain mainly EPA funding for cleanup at these kinds of sites.

It is a tactic used throughout Central Massachusetts to get sites cleaned up and back into use.

"It will get it all ready to make it as attractive as possible for future developers to buy it," said Scott Graves, the economic development coordinator for Gardner. "There have been different developers seeking a tentative interest in the property … This phase will take the project to a point where the developer can come in and make good on whatever business plan they have."

This phase of the ongoing project is being paid for in part with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean-up and revolving loan fund grants as well as MassDevelopment and MassWorks funds. Once cleaned up, the nearly 10.5-acre property will be primed for redevelopment, he said, situated adjacent to Timpany Plaza and Route 68.

Who are they hoping to get for developers?

Once complete, the property will be idea for a commercial use. Its proximity to an existing shopping plaza would be a nod towards retail, but office space would also make sense at the location, said Graves, who added the city's urban renewal plan further explains the kind of development the city has envisioned.

The region was built on manufacturing but has struggled in the recent past, with an unemployment rate that is perennially higher than the statewide average. However, the area has good bones, said Graves who explained there is a strong workforce in a city with a solid residential base situated well geographically along the Route 2 corridor.

"All of that points towards good forward momentum in the years ahead," said Graves.

Is this the only area in Gardner being cleaned up?

Far from it. The city and the GRA have been at work facilitating cleanups for years, including $2 million for demolition and cleanup at the nearby former S. Bent site that is also on Mill Street.

At that site, a solar array was completed in June of 2014, allowing the GRA and the city to make positive use of the land for the duration of the solar lease and have it primed for expansion in the future for the city.

A more recent project are two downtown properties that include the former Orpheum Theater that is in extreme disrepair.

"There's a lot of activity happening here simultaneously," Graves said.


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