BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The 18.4 acres of open space on Lion Gate Drive in Bloomfield officially became a park on June 14, as officials cut the ribbon while standing at the center of the new turf soccer field on land that was once an industrial glass factory. In addition to the field, Lion Gate Park has a playground, walking paths, fitness stations and a picnic area. Across the parking lot is a 4.2-acre wetland that is hydraulically connected to the Third River and Spring Brook, which will store and slowly release up to 10 million gallons of floodwater while creating a wildlife habitat.
Bloomfield broke ground on the park two years ago, after almost 20 years of debate and advocacy over whether or not the town should have bought the property; at one point, there was a proposal to build 148 townhouses with 248 parking spaces on the land. Partially funded by a $3 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and a $1.7 million Freshwater Wetlands Mitigation grant, the park project cost $13.3 million.
At the opening ceremony, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette congratulated the people in Bloomfield who have been fighting for years to build a park on the land.
“You should be proud of yourselves for the advocacy for making this park happen,” he said. “We are dependent on local sources to make places like this a reality. We can take a space that was industrial and turn it into something green, and say, ‘This is for you.’”
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill is reintroducing federal legislation that would create similar parks in other parts of the country, in cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich., where factory production has hurt the environment.
“As North Jersey becomes more and more populated, we value parks more and more,” Sherrill said in an interview with The Independent Press at the event. “Especially during the pandemic, we saw how important it was to be able to go outside and restore ourselves. This is wonderful to see; this is the gold standard. Unfortunately with sites like this, as we were supporting the economy, we didn’t realize that we were also destroying the environment. So we have to remediate it so the next generation doesn’t suffer.”
Essex County Commissioner Vice President Carlos Pomares, a former Bloomfield councilman, said the opportunity to turn the land into a park was too good for Bloomfield to let go.
“This is the culmination of a huge amount of work. In a town that’s 95-percent developed, you can’t pass up 18 acres of open space,” he said at the event. “You don’t always have the opportunity to make a decision in perpetuity. Let’s see what else we can do to preserve green space.”
Councilman Nick Joanow has long been an advocate of preserving the land, opposed to building on and developing it when that was a possibility. Aside from the benefits of turning it into a park, there were flooding and environmental concerns.
“It doesn’t make sense to build on a floodplain,” Joanow said at the event. “For 21 years, people advocated for this, and without the advocacy this would not be possible. I applaud the DEP for the support they’ve given from way back in the day. This is how political entities come together to do the right thing.”
Mayor Michael Venezia said he grew up around the corner from what is now Lion Gate Park but was then just a former industrial site full of waste. According to him, it’s been an eyesore for a long time.
“This park is extremely important to me,” Venezia said. “I always thought this area had so much potential. We set out to turn this brown field into a green field. Recreation and sports are important, and we wanted to build a first-class facility for them. All of Bloomfield, old and young, will make this a gem of the community.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic