Derelict factory site to become a park
Project aims to brighten Peabody’s downtown
A former leather factory site in downtown Peabody will soon see new life as a neighborhood park under a project targeted to begin late this fall.
The city, which acquired the 45 Walnut St. parcel last year, recently hired a firm to design the project, which calls for removing contaminated soil from the 1.3-acre site and constructing the park.
Two years in the planning, the initiative has been aided by four state and federal grants, including $200,000 awarded last month by the US Environmental Protection Agency to cover the bulk of cleanup costs.
Peabody officials said they are pleased to proceed with a project that will turn a blighted urban parcel into a recreational resource.
“It will take a vacant lot in the downtown and revitalize that neighborhood with an open space area,’’ said Brendan Callahan, a planner for the city’s Department of Community Development and Planning.
Karen Sawyer, director of the department, said the project is a good example of cooperation among the local, state, and federal governments.
“All three entities contributed to what will be much-needed and hard to find open space in the downtown area,’’ she said.
The property, enclosed by a chain-link fence, was the site of a tannery from 1917 until the 1940s. It was then used by New England Sportswear, a manufacturer of leather and suede apparel, until 1990, when the buildings were razed. It has sat unused since.
While specific features of the project will be determined through the design process, officials said the park will be an open grassy area with a walking path, benches, new trees, and an entry plaza that will include a brick patio and planters. A bocce court and a tot lot also are being considered.
Mayor Michael J. Bonfanti said the park fits into a broader effort to enhance quality of life for downtown residents.
“We have a lot of seniors right across the street,’’ he said of two nearby senior housing complexes, “and there are no green areas down there.’’ He said the new park “will give them a place to go that’s right nearby.’’
The park will be part of an evolving network of green spaces in the downtown that now includes the Leather City Common, an approximately 1.5-acre public park the city built in the 1990s on another former tannery site; Emerson Park; and the Higgins School field.
The site also is adjacent to a planned section of the riverwalk the city is developing along the North River. Callahan said a goal of the park is to highlight its proximity to the river.
In addition to providing a recreational resource, officials said the park will serve to absorb rainwater, helping to ease the city’s chronic downtown flooding.
Peabody began actively pursuing the project in July 2008 when the City Council authorized seeking state funding to acquire the parcel. In September 2008, the state awarded Peabody a grant of up to $240,000 through its Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities program to help purchase the site. Last June, the city acquired the site from a real estate trust for $131,437. Of that cost, $78,862 was covered through the state grant, with the remainder funded with $52,575 in matching dollars from the city.
In August, the EPA awarded $1 million through its Brownfields Program for Peabody and Salem to undertake environmental assessments of former industrial sites. Callahan said a portion of the award is being spent on an environmental assessment of the Walnut Street site. He said that work, mostly completed, shows the site is primarily contaminated with heavy metals, with some isolated “hot spots’’ of petroleum. According to Callahan, the planned cleanup will meet state standards for the site to be reused as a park.
In November, the state awarded Peabody a second grant for the project under its PARC program. The $329,416 grant and a $219,611 city match will be used to pay for the project design and the park construction.
The $200,000 grant awarded by the EPA for cleanup of the site requires an additional $40,000 contribution from the city.
Horsley Witten Group, a Sandwich engineering firm, is heading a consulting team that is designing the project. Callahan said the most recent EPA grant requires that the project be ready for use by June 2011.