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Wilder's Park Project Doubled as Developer Perk 

click to enlarge street31_cementfactory_100.jpg

Wilder neglected to mention that the relocation of the cement facility would have doubled as a city-funded perk for developers of Rocketts Landing, the ambitious condominium, town home and retail development that's beginning to rise on the riverbank.

A railroad spur runs from the main line to the Lehigh terminal, in an inconvenient location for Rocketts. The tracks go right past the old beer tunnels, large arched vaults used more than a century ago by the James River Steam Brewery, which was started by a son of the founder of D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc.

Workers have been clearing out the tunnels in order to incorporate them into the development. "We think they would make a very nice ambiance and theme and motif for a restaurant," Rocketts developer Bill Abeloff says.

But the adjacent tracks, on which a slow and swaying train chugs past twice daily, present a minor problem. Abeloff worries that trains carrying cement might ruin the ambiance, but "we've told the mayor that relocating Lehigh Portland is not our job," he says.

So Wilder offered a solution: The city could buy the land for a park, relocating the cement company.

That proposal was met by council's swift veto. Council members didn't have any idea what Wilder had in mind, Councilwoman Kathy Graziano says. "We kept trying to find out what the $3.5 million was going to be used for," she says. "When nobody could give us an answer and we cut it," the mayor explained what the money would be used for.

With five other city parks within a few blocks — Chimborazo, Gillies Creek, Libby Terrace, Libby Hill and Great Shiplock — it's not like the area's hurting for green space.

The mayor says the park has "always been part of the master plan concept," says his spokesman, Linwood Norman, who would not make the city's community development director available to comment.

Of Lehigh's relocation, Abeloff says, "We continue to hope that will happen." But he won't say if the mayor will get it done. "I am too old to be foolish enough to venture a guess about that," Abeloff says. Liz Mikols, spokeswoman for Lehigh Cement Co., says the firm is negotiating with the city about the site's future.

Something could change "down the road" if the railroad and potential restaurateurs "get in each other's way," Abeloff says, but he shrugs off the problem. The Rocketts Landing developers are still planning a pool, clubhouse and events facility on the opposite side of the tracks from the bulk of the development. S



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