Breaking through: Palmyra dedicates ground for new development

Land that most recently hosted flea market to become mixed-use project.

After years of slow but steady progress, on May 21 ground was finally broken on the Route 73 redevelopment site, just west of the thoroughfare which divides the residential area of Palmyra from the Brownfield land that will soon be converted to affordable housing. Pictured from left: Borough Council President Tim Howard, Councilmember Farrah Jenkins, Mayor Gina Ragomo Tait, Council members Laura Craig Cloud, Bernadette Russell and Brandon Allmond, with Borough Administrator John Gural on far right.

Once home to a flea market, and a drive-in movie theater before that, along with the hopes and dreams of a spate of developers from both sides of the Delaware River, an otherwise nondescript 182-acre site on the west side of Route 73 has moved one step closer to development.

Representatives from local, regional and state governance, as well as those from land-development concerns, converged on May 21 to break ground on land expected to host the Tac-Pal Logistics Center as well as new affordable-housing units. 

“Palmyra is more than just a bridge,” said Mayor Gina Ragomo Tait. “Palmyra is known for generations of families living here. I believe the key to this community is that we get the whole family involved.” 

Called by Tait one of the two “superheroes” of redevelopment efforts — along with borough  attorney Ted Rosenberg — Borough Administrator John Gural was clearly emotional when called to speak. Fighting back a wave of emotion, he whispered, “This is a long time coming.”

Gural, whose tenure as head of the borough was, “like six mayors ago,” said groundbreaking  was the realization of his main goal as a public servant, deciding what to do with the land on which he and his friends used to hunt deer. 

“Back in 2003, when I was a councilman, I decided to make it my goal of my political life to see the redevelopment of this fallow area,” Gural noted. “You all wanted to see this turned into a bigger, better opportunity to assist and improve the quality of life for all our residents.”

The redevelopment area comprises a full one-third of Palmyra’s total footprint. Gural acknowledged how close and close-knit the community is, but that the proposed development presents “33 percent more opportunity to increase what we already have.”

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection committed over $7 million in grant funding to the borough for remedial investigation of the impending development, a considerable investment for a municipality of just 7,000 residents.

One unexpected quirk of being able to clear the land for future use, Gural revealed, was the discovery of more than 300 pieces of unexploded ordnance on the site. The borough had to use roughly $5 million of the state’s $7 million allotment to solve the problem. 

The area had fallen into disuse since National Amusements Inc. announced in July 2019 that a flea market it operated on the site would close the following month. 

Palmyra High School seniors and student representatives to council Andrew Yansick and Ellie Lake were also in attendance.

 

“On this historic day, these young students will know what it means to go forward,” Tait added.

Evoking the actions of citizens past and the transitory nature of memory and time and progress, Tait offered a benediction for the project.

“I look forward to the memories that we will be making with the jobs and the housing that will be going up, and with the people that will be able to join our community.”