Corrections or additions?
Hill’s Rebirth: Once Again, Trenton Makes
This article by Peter J. Mladineo was published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on February 4, 1998. All rights reserved.
I think I’ve found the secret to economic development,"
says Jim Harveson. "Give away buildings."
He’s only half joking. The director of economic development for the
City of Trenton, Harveson is spearheading perhaps the most vital
in the Trenton’s revitalization campaign. He has convinced eight
to move into a vacant industrial complex that had become a symbol
of Trenton’s manufacturing prowess gone south.
Two years after one of Trenton’s major employers, Hill Refrigeration,
left its long-time headquarters, the city has taken control of its
vast 800,000-square-foot plant at 360 Pennington Avenue and enticed
eight companies, including Hill’s direct competitor, International
Fixture Industries of Canada, to occupy Hill’s vacant buildings. It’s
an ingenious plan: the city is giving them the space for free on
that the companies pay for the fit-outs, modifications, and —
most important from the city’s perspective — taxes.
This plan is also helping Trenton realize that it still has plenty
of appeal to certain business sectors. "One thing we found
explains Alan Mallach, Trenton’s director of housing and development,
"is that there are a large number of strong small and medium-sized
companies out there that do manufacturing, distribution,
this sort of thing. They’re not high-profile, not very sophisticated,
but they’re a very important part of the northeastern economy and
Trenton has some good assets that make a lot of sense to these
In Hill Refrigeration’s departure, Trenton lost a community fixture,
hundreds of jobs, and as many memories. Everybody in Trenton seemed
to have a connection to it. Trenton’s mayor Doug Palmer worked there
as a management trainee. So did Ernie Williams, Trenton’s chief of
Hill’s announcement was especially bad news for Trenton. The city’s
other large manufacturers, Carter Wallace and American Standard, had
announced their departures, but Hill’s decision both surprised and
alienated Trenton. In 1989 Hill had spent $5 million to upgrade the
facility — this certainly was not an indication that within seven
years the company would be calling in the moving trucks. "You
have a company that walked away from a highly skilled, highly
workforce in order to go down to Virginia and, presumably, cut their
costs in building a modern facility," says Mallach.
But Mallach and other city officials maintain that Hill’s primary
objective was not the modern facility at all but rather to trade in
a unionized workforce in Trenton for a non-union, lower-paid workforce
in Virginia. "Hill could have built a modern facility in the
area," says Mallach.
"There are so many stories of bitterness people had about the
Hill closing," says Harveson.
Angelo Belardo, IFI’s vice president of operations, worked for Hill
for 40 years: "There were 1,000 families that got screwed up"
because of Hill’s decision to close, he says. "We all came here
to stay here."
But now, as if Trenton is the recipient of some kind of
urban karma, Belardo and as many as 200 other ex-Hill employees will
get to go back to work in their old factory within the next year.
They now have jobs with one of Hill’s direct competitors, IFI.
IFI will sublet 120,000 square feet from Trenton Corrugated Products.
The two will share the centerpiece of the Hill site, a
"undemolishable" World-War-II-era building that housed a great
deal of Hill’s operation. "I like the irony of it a whole
Based in Montreal, IFI will be using the Trenton site to open the
headquarters of its American subsidiary, IFI Refrigeration. IFI chose
Trenton, the firm’s officials say, solely because of the availability
of Hill’s workforce, which became closely intertwined with IFI after
the plant closed. For instance, Joseph E. Berenato, who worked for
Hill in the ’60s, reports directly to Pierre DeCastris, chairman of
the Canadian parent company.
"We’ve all stayed close and my production manager spent 40 years
in that plant, and between him, myself, and Joe Berenato, we knew
the people who could do the job," says Tom Moffatt, another
employee. "That’s really the reason we came back to Trenton."
Shortly before Hill closed, Moffatt started a company
called Ameritech, which made commercial refrigeration systems. Its
client was IFI, which hired Ameritech, which employed 40 ex-Hill
employees, when it expanded its operation into the United States.
IFI ended up buying Ameritech in what Moffatt calls "a merger
turned into an acquisition." IFI, Moffatt explains, initially
manufactured only refrigerator cases. As the company expanded
it would subcontract out the service of making the systems side of
the refrigerators. But to be competitive with HillPhoenix (Hill’s
new name) in the U.S. market, it would need to be able to handle all
aspects of commercial refrigeration under the same roof. "Hill
produces cases and systems, we need to produce cases and systems to
be competitive," says Moffatt, now IFI Refrigeration’s vice
in charge of engineering and sales.
But IFI’s triumphant entry into the Trenton scene is only a fraction
of this story. The transformation of 360 Pennington Avenue wouldn’t
have happened if it weren’t for the initiative of the City of Trenton
after Hill moved out in the fall of 1995. Penpros, the Chicago-based
real estate firm that owned the property, unsuccessfully marketed
it through conventional real estate channels as a single package.
With no bites and faced with the prospects of paying taxes on an empty
building, Penpros came to the city with a proposition in late 1996.
"Their proposition was simple," explains Mallach. "We
would like to give you the property, we would even throw in a
amount of money to demolish it, on condition that the city is willing
to take title before end of March, 1997."
For the city there was no other viable alternative. Either the city
agreed to take title on the complex, or risk having Penpros give up
marketing it and stop paying taxes, and then have the property fall
prey to urban decay. "By the time the city would take it through
tax foreclosure, the property would be, in all likelihood, a
says Mallach. "From our standpoint it made sense to go out and
Enter Anthony Pecoraro, president of Trenton Corrugated Products,
a cardboard box manufacturer. The company had been experiencing
pains in cramped quarters on Southard Street. Harveson recalls that
Pecoraro had been reluctantly considering moving the company out of
Trenton about the time the city took title on the Hill complex. "I
said to him, `We just had those buildings given to us, why don’t you
see if you could rent some space from us?’ And the rest is
The pieces of the Hill Refrigeration puzzle started coming together
quickly. Over the next few months, 360 Pennington Road would go from
a post-industrial ghost town to a bustling urban revitalization
replete with the rumble of trucks and the crash and clatter of
buildings being demolished. In all, the city used $350,000 from
to wreck 40 percent of the buildings there.
Even Hill Refrigeration’s outmoded paint line found a suitor. The
Hill system, which utilized wet paint, was left intact at the
But since then a more environmentally friendly dry powder system had
become the industry standard. "I started out thinking we had a
real valuable thing and found out it would cost money to get rid
says Harveson. To the rescue came Certified Metal Finishes, based
in Bristol, Pennsylvania, which is investing between $350,000 to
in 54,000 square feet there. It is also taking the paint line and
converting it into a dry powder system. "We’ve been ad-libbing
this from the beginning," says Harveson.
Here’s who else is moving in: Trenton Corrugated Products is investing
$240,000 in 143,000 square feet. Its customer, Genpac decided to take
80,000 square feet for its packaging supply and cardboard box
Starting with scarcely more than a frame of a building, Genpac,
based in Deptford, will spend between $500,000 and $1 million to
a warehouse and offices.
CJ Parts Distributors, a Hamilton-based wholesale supplier of auto
parts to state and local government agencies, will take 78,000 square
feet for a fitout cost of about $500,000. GMH Associates, located
on Perry Street in Trenton, rebuilds and repairs water and wastewater
treatment plants, and is taking 12,000 square feet for a $150,000
investment. Janzer Architectural, a high-end mailbox manufacturer,
is taking a total of 27,300 square feet in four buildings for
Also S&S Industrial Equipment & Supply, an industrial equipment
is taking 30,000 square feet in three buildings at a cost of $100,000.
The deal the city offered to prospective move-ins would sound pretty
attractive to just about any business. As Harveson explains, the
get the space for free — environmental permits included —
but they have to pay for everything else, including taxes. Also, the
companies are contractually bound to stay in the complex and sustain
a steady-sized workforce, or the building is forfeited to the city.
At $0.38 per square foot, the city is expecting to pull in $300,000
a year from the venture, says Harveson. The ratables are considerably
higher elsewhere. If the same complex were in West Windsor, where
commercial ratables are between $1 and $1.50 per square foot, the
building could, potentially, earn $700,000 a year, says Gerald
of Fennelly Associates.
But there is something to be said for keeping industry in the city.
Uncle Sam seems to think so too. The United States Economic
Authority gave the City of Trenton preliminary approvals for a $1
million grant. "They love the idea that we have this urban
park," says Harveson.
The Hill site is not the first property on Pennington Avenue in
to receive help from the government. Just next door, London Harness
& Cable Corp., the Philadelphia-based electrical wiring manufacturer,
received a $500,000 low interest state EDA loan as well as several
other state incentives, to help fix up the Royal Engineering building
at 330 Pennington Avenue, which had come vacant when Royal Engineering
went bankrupt in 1995.
This trend is a dramatic break from the previous decade,
Harveson adds. "People are now willing to move into older
where in the ’80s I don’t think I saw one piece of industrial property
change hands," he says. "This is the first time we’ve seen
a rise in the number of manufacturing jobs."
And there’s nowhere else for the Greater Trenton area’s host of
manufacturing" firms to go. "To a large extent we were not
a part of the real estate boom in the late ’80s," says Harveson.
"Now we’re at a point where we’re really seeing a shortage of
industrial buildings. People are going to have to start building new
factories in order to meet the demand, because there’s really nothing
left in the city that’s usable for modern industry."
A major asset for older buildings is that they usually have their
environmental permits in place. The Hill property, Harveson reports,
was sold "from one conglomerate to another" during the
ECRA (Environment Cleanup Responsibility Act) era that was replaced
in the ’90s by the more lenient Industrial Site Reclamation Act
"Whenever a company would divest a property it had to pass through
that test, so there was a considerable amount of money spent during
the ’80s on environmental cleanup," says Harveson.
All of the businesses moving into the Hill site are family-owned,
and, for the time being at least, are cooperating as if they were
all part of one big extended family. As Harveson explains, the
have formed an association to do common area maintenance and provide
security. "I knew at any point it was going to start getting
While Harveson may affect calm as he transforms the site into a
facility, the job of point man for a project like this takes its toll.
A good-humored 43-year-old with degrees from Grove City University
in western Pennsylvania and Ball State University, Harveson grew up
in Philadelphia and went into banking when he got out of college.
Harveson, who lives in Trenton with his wife and two children, has
been working for the city since 1984, and has been the director of
economic development since 1987.
Recently Harveson, who jokingly calls himself the "Economic
Tsar," has had to alternate his visits to the Hill site with
to the periodontist. "The stress of this job is causing me to
crush my teeth," he says.
"This is such a great example of how I always underestimate the
complexity of a project. I had no idea of the complexity of this
down to the sewers." The extreme difficulty, he explains, is the
task of having to take one self-contained complex and break it down
into eight self-sufficient units. "You can’t run extension cords
from one to the other," he says.
Although it’s far less glamorous than Trenton’s other revitalization
projects, like the Roebling Complex or KatManDu or the new arena,
this project seems to carry double the importance. "To me this
is the stuff that’s going to give people jobs," he says. "If
you don’t have manufacturing jobs in a city, you’re in big
— Peter J. Mladineo
If anything is going to fly in Trenton, surely it would
be an airline that had cheap flights. Or so everyone thought.
Airport’s only airline with scheduled passenger service, Eastwind,
has dropped its flagship Boston route due to fare wars.
Undaunted, Tom Patterson presses on with his $10 million airport
Executive JetPort. He has FAA approvals for the site and anticipates
opening on March 10.
The 46-year-old Ewing native aims to rival Ronson Aviation, the
principal tenant for more than 20 years, in providing fuel and
turboprop aircraft maintenance, charters, avionics repair, and
sales. As a full service Fixed Base Operator (an FBO) Patterson also
wants to offer maintenance for jet planes and commercial passenger
planes and 24-hour customs services (now available in New Jersey only
at Newark and Teterboro).
"We feel we will enhance the foreign trade zone — which should
bring corporate America here," says Patterson. "Our conference
center and our improvements will draw attention and will send the
message that the airport is developing."
Patterson’s plan, as outlined in U.S. 1 last September 10, seems right
on schedule. A graduate of Delaware Valley College in Doylestown,
Class of 1974, he is renovating the 80,000 square foot hangars
occupied by the Naval Air Warfare Center and building a two-story,
atrium-style 20,000 foot corporate headquarters and conference center
on the 27.5 acre property.
Leonard Scozzari of Scozzari Builders on Lawrenceville Road is in
charge of the design-build project, and Ronald E. Vaughn of the Vaughn
Organization on Trenton’s Lafayette Street is the architect. Robert
D’Auria, the controller, is in charge of hiring nearly 100 people
by the end of this year. This month he is interviewing air frame and
power plant mechanics — some from the former Naval Warfare center.
Until the firm is certified for private aircraft maintenance it can
do maintenance by using an individual service person’s license.
Patterson sold his Trenton-based business, Casino Events Marketing,
and sunk that profit into Executive Jetport. His 51 percent ownership
also represents lots of sweat equity; he hopes to be in the black
by the middle of the second year and pay for some of the start-up
costs with revenues. But that budget is based on a 30 percent increase
in overall airport operations and calls for him to gross $10 to $12
million in the first year, increasing to $27 million by third year.
Eastwind insists it is buying a third plane with two more jets due
to arrive by June. That would be good news for Patterson and Executive
Jetport. To reach his goal he needs Eastwind to hunker down and
Box 7794, West Trenton 08628. 609-883-2146; fax, 609-883-5627. E-mail:
08540. Les Wenzel, vice president, branch manager. 609-520-9800; fax,
This insurance company is strictly for aviation insurance, for every
type of aviation business, from small planes to parts manufacturers
and airport owners. AIG Aviation was founded in the late 1940s in
Atlanta, Georgia, and opened in New Jersey in 1971. It moved to the
Carnegie Center from Edison in November. As one of four branch offices
it does no sales, only claims and underwriting, and aside from the
larger firms it has a niche competitor, USAIG.
Among the 12 employees here, several have a love for aviation, and
two have current pilots’ licenses, says Janice L. Coombs, office
who has been with the firm for 24 years. Several of the firms that
operate from Princeton Airport have insurance coverage from AIG.
Street, Trenton Business & Technology Center, Box 717, Clarksburg
08510. Larry West, president. 609-259-1654; fax, 609-259-9299. Home
The last time we wrote about Larry West, he was a non-resident client
of the Rutgers Technology Help Desk and Incubator (U.S. 1, July 30,
1997). Now he has taken up residence in another incubator, the Trenton
Business and Technology Center. Formerly based in Clarksburg, his
firm makes integrated optical logic devices.
A graduate of California Tech, Class of 1977, with a PhD from
West had worked on weapons systems at the Lawrence Livermore
and at Bell Labs at Holmdel. In 1994 he left and took with him his
system to aid laboratory scientists align their delicate equipment.
08691. Albert Kren, owner. 609-426-1022; fax, 609-426-0050.
Albert Kren started a typewriter repair business in 1960 and though
the machines have changed — he now services everything from fax
machines to copiers and printers — he’s still going strong. But
he did close his storefront on Alexander Road. "The building was
up for sale," he says, "and I have more room to do what I’m
doing at home." Phone and fax are new.
08512-7500. David Eckert, president and CEO of North American
609-860-4000; fax, 609-860-0074.
Twenty-five former Rhone Poulenc workers are moving this week from
103 College Road to Cranbury. They have a new name on the door —
Rhodia Inc. — and as of January 1, a new president and CEO. David
D. Eckert succeeded Peter J. Neff.
Of the 850 people in New Jersey, 650 are at the Prospect Plains
— 30 percent research workers and the rest administrators. The
headquarters used to be at 219 Black Horse Lane and that enclave now
has 200 employees.
Rhodia plans an initial public offering in April and, after the split,
Rhone Poulenc has begun to concentrate on its original focus, the
life sciences, leaving Rhodia with the fibers & polymers and chemicals
Rhodia was the original name of the firm, which established operations
in the United States in 1948. It now has five divisions: specialty
chemicals for industrial markets (silicones, coatings, construction
materials); consumer specialty chemicals (food ingredients,
detergents, surfactants such as personal care items and soap);
pharmaceutical, and agrichemical intermediates (such as aspirin and
fine organic chemicals but not pesticides and herbicides); ecoservices
(sulfuric acid regeneration); and rare earths (magnets, cadmium for
nickel cadmium batteries, and polyester film that can be used to
Also belonging to Rhodia are a chemical plant at 298 Jersey Avenue
in New Brunswick that makes organic intermediates — flavors and
fragrances, cumarin, and custom manufacturing (732-418-5617; fax,
Second Floor, Princeton 08540. Avi Lele, COO. 609-951-9195; fax,
Home page: http://www.hexaware.com.
HexaWare vacated 4,000 square feet at 13 Roszel Road and expanded
to 10,000 square feet at 5 Independence Way. It has offices in
Dubai, Bahrain, Singapore, and Malaysia. Its headquarters is in
India (formerly Bombay). Clients include Blue Cross, Princeton
ADP, and Bankers Trust.
The COO, Avi Lele, is in charge of North American operations. The
employee count is up to 80 in Princeton, 1,500 worldwide. Barbara
Young, a company spokesperson, attributes the firm’s growth to its
Year 2000 services. "We are very active in the Y2K market and
we’ve opened a lot of new offices this year," she says. "We’re
about a $9 million company and we expect to be a $20 million by the
end of ’98."
Street, Princeton 08540. Rick Weiss, president. 609-497-4600; fax,
Rick Weiss predicted last year that if his business were awarded an
SBIR Phase II contract, he would expand from his home into an office
location. Sure enough, he won the grant and now he has moved. Phone
and fax are the same. Weiss, who went to Carnegie Mellon (Class of
1980) and has a masters from Princeton University, is devising
analysis software systems for metabolic research studies (U.S. 1,
November 19, 1997).
Jonathan Yi sold his exporting firm based at 3490 Route 1 and is now
working for Samsung Corporation in Fort Lee. Haan Team’s new president
is Chris Seu, who moved the firm to Pennsylvania. The mailing address
is PO Box 155, Horsham, PA 19044.
07080. Terry Westerhaug, operations manager. 908-769-8850; fax,
The sales office for the environmentally safe printing inks
moved from 204 North Centre Drive, North Brunswick. The firm makes
water-based and UV inks for the printing industry. Phone and fax are
Brook Regional Sewer Authority from 1972 to 1997.
Corrections or additions?
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