BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Ground was broken on the proposed Lion Gate open space project Friday, March 15. Envisioned on the 18.2-acre site of the former Scientific Glass Co. is a soccer field and park. A floodplain will also be created on four acres. The ceremony, hosted by Bloomfield Township Administrator Matthew Watkins, attracted county and state officials.
Watkins said the project was a testimony of political courage by elected official who wanted a facility for future generations. The site had been acquired by a developer and residential development had started. But the township, approving $10 million in bonds, acquired the land. For the groundbreaking, the land was a plain of red clay soil with several parked steam shovels.
Councilman Nicholas Joanow received high accolades for the project, having advocated for the land to be preserved for open space for many years.
Mayor Michael Venezia acknowledged this commitment, saying that Joanow had worked on the project for 19 years while he has been supporting it since joining the council six years ago.
“I like to think this project adds one more piece to the overall county and Bloomfield’s need for recreation,” Venezia said. “As a kid, this was just an area of a run-down factory. We use to throw rocks here and play with the mercury.”
Bloomfield council members in attendance were Ted Gamble, Wartyna Davis, Rich Rockwell Jenny Mundell and Sarah Cruz, in addition to Joanow. Former councilman Essex County Freeholder Carlos Pomares, D-5th District, also attended.
Debbie Mans, the deputy commissioner for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, said DEP money for the project’s crucial restoration of wetlands was coming from successful legal claims of natural resource damage. Three million dollars would be coming from the court settlement to restore the lower Passaic River, she said. Another $1.7 million would be funded through the DEP wetland mitigation program.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. congratulated Venezia, the council and “especially Nick Joanow.”
“Anytime you can save open space, it’s great,” DiVincenzo said. “Nick, I remember being in your house 19 years ago when you were talking about it.”
He said that Bloomfield was on the move and as goes Bloomfield, so goes the county.
“I’ll take credit for that,” he said. “It’s an exciting day for Bloomfield, the county and the state.”
NJ State Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, said he remembered walking the Lion Gate site.
“I’ve been through seven mayors here,” he said. “We finally have one that understands the needs of the people. A job well done.”
The Lion Gate project, he said, was the essence of cooperation and economic development that will be spurred from the project.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-28th District, credited DiVincenzo for being an example of how to develop a project, and Watkins, for putting the pieces together.
“Imagine being handed a blank piece of paper and told, ‘make this,’” he said.
“You don’t pave an area like this,” he said. “This will prevent flooding in nearby basements. This is a legacy this council will leave this township.”
Joanow said the township did sustainability right.
“It’s like a big Lego set,” he said. Every piece and person are the reason we are here today,” he said. “Over the years, it’s been a difficult process.”
According to a press release, the wetlands are expected to be created by September. The cost for the project is $13.3 million. Andy Strauss, and open space consultant for the township, said the wetlands and park will include trails, a field and possibly an environmental center.