Downtown brownfield renewed as parking lot

By KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
For 15 years, the lot of the former H.J. Mills box factory sat abandoned after 100 years of business
In 1998, the building was destroyed by a fire and the city took the lot over a year later. Now, after 13 years of environmental assessments, site cleanups, construction and more, a new community parking lot has taken its place, providing parking to businesses and organizations in the surrounding area of the lot on 149-151 Church St.
“It has been said that this is our first successful brownfields redevelopment, but it won’t be our last,” Mayor Art Ward said at a ribbon cutting ceremony last Thursday.
Since the city took on the property in 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided funding for three phases of environmental assessments that took place over a number of years. In 2009, the city received two Brownfields Cleanup Grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the “stimulus plan,” from the EPA, which totaled $345,033. The city then kicked in an additional $268,047, which together covered the entire cost of cleanup. The city then appropriated $800,000 for the construction of the community lot.
Ward said if it weren’t for the federal dollars the lot may still be contaminated and unproductive.
The EPA’s Regional Administrator for New England, Curt Spalding, said New England is an urban region with many brownfield sites, which are sites that can be reused but may be contaminated with hazardous materials. He said the redevelopment of brownfield sites “reduce risk in the community, eliminate environmental degradation” and reduces blight.
“People have said the stimulus money didn’t have an impact on New England,” Spalding said,  however he said many brownfields have been cleaned up due to those funds in the region, “which has been fantastic to see.”
The new parking lot will be accessible to many organizations downtown, including the Board of Education, Bristol Community Organization (BCO), the Imagine Nation Museum, the Bristol Baptist Church and customers of the Mafale’s Plaza.
Doreen Stickney, director of the Imagine Nation Museum, said she and her staff are “very appreciative” of the ability to use the new lot. She said there is limited parking at the museum, and many busses come through for field trips.
“This lot will greatly help the Imagine Nation Museum and the Preschool Learning Center,” Stickney said.
Over at BCO, Tom Morrow, executive director, said the lot will too help “with any overflow of parking” at the South Street location. He added that the timing is perfect since the state is planning to realign the streets surrounding BCO, which would impact its parking.
Macky McCleary, deputy commissioner for environmental quality the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the cleanup of brownfield is “smart policy” and “a critical component of the state’s environmental protection efforts.”
He said the DEEP is currently working on revitalizing the brownfields remediation programs, to help make sites cleaner and improve the way the program works. He added that the state thinks it can create $1 million in real estate sales with the cleanup of brownfields.
“We are putting valuable property back to use,” McCleary said.
U.S. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal also attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, and said the redevelopment of the once contaminated and vacant lot “says volumes about the future of Connecticut and its commitment to remediation and renewal” He added that projects like the redevelopment of brownfields improve economic development and add jobs.
“Today’s event marks a turnaround for Bristol, and signals what public leadership can do at best,” Blumenthal said.