Residual pollution stalls redevelopment of Frankford Arsenal site

    At the height of World War II, Northeast Philadelphia’s Frankford Arsenal produced more small- and medium-caliber ammunition than any other place in the world.Now, after years of false starts, it’s lined up to become a $90 million retail shopping megaplex that promises to bring 900 new jobs to the area.

    But, there’s just one more snag.

    When Mark Hankin’s development group bought the Frankford Arsenal property in 1983, the deed promised that the land was fully remediated from its heyday as an epicenter of American ammunition.

    But 30 years later, that’s still not true. Hankin’s group was full-bore into a project to build a 487,000-square-foot shopping center when they uncovered oil pockets that they believe could be potentially hazardous.

    “When we bought the project, we had been told that it had been cleaned, sanitized and remediated for unrestricted use,” said Hankin. “That turned out not to be the case.”

    Power of the pen

    Now with hundreds of temporary construction and permanent retail jobs hanging in the balance, Hankin’s development groups is appealing to the federal government to take care of the contaminated land.

    Standing along a few dozen union leaders Monday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said he would write to the Army Corps of Engineers urging them to complete the cleanup. Amid the rubble of the former weapons manufacturer, Casey likened the fight to compete in the global economy to war.

    “The way that we can win the battle is not just by investing in our workers,” said Casey. “It’s by creating opportunities for job growth. When you can create as many as 900 jobs — and all those construction jobs in addition to that — that’s one of the reasons we’re standing here today.”

    Casey says he’ll push for more federal funding if necessary, but thinks the Corps already has the resources to finish the project.

    Although Hankin wouldn’t reveal the names of the retailers that have signed on to the project, he also wouldn’t deny one popular rumor: Walmart.

    Proponents hope the project can begin construction in 2013 and open in 2014.

    The shopping center would take up 45 acres on the Arsenal’s north end. Its south end is currently home to two walled-off charter schools and a soon-to-be-developed residential community.

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