Birthplace of Oyster Crackers Now a Vibrant Housing Community
Smart Growth Award Category: Historic District Redevelopment – The Cracker Factory
Winners: HHG Development, New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency
The rehabilitation of The Cracker Factory, a historic structure in Trenton, transformed a vacant, dilapidated industrial facility into a premier “green” workforce housing development.
The project has added value to the local neighborhood while preserving the architectural integrity of the structure and showcases how redevelopment that respects historic assets can garner community support and enhance neighborhood vitality.
Birthplace of Oyster Crackers
Originally known as the A. Exton & Co. Cracker Factory and the birthplace of oyster crackers in the mid-19th century, the site was once home to a thriving manufacturing facility that over time became a deteriorated storage warehouse. At one point, there were plans to bulldoze much of the surrounding neighborhood to build new affordable housing, displacing many longtime residents in the process. Through the efforts of local grassroots organizations, however, a new development plan was adopted that would save and adapt the existing neighborhood fabric, thus avoiding the displacement of residents.
The developer designated under the new plan, HHG Development, specializes in rehabilitating historic structures and preserving their character and architecture while incorporating sustainable and green building practices. Although the shape and design of the structure posed a challenge, having been built up in five stages over roughly 80 years, HHG was able to adapt it successfully into configurations that range from Victorian row houses to industrial spaces, including converting two large brick ovens into rooms in one of the lofts.
Completed in 2009, The Cracker Factory is a mixed-income housing project of 18 one- and two-bedroom lofts featuring gardens, terraces and garages, all of which are currently occupied. Green technologies were integrated into the fabric of the building: solar panels heat and cool common areas, energy-efficient electric heat pumps provide central heating and cooling and upgraded insulation and new thermal windows were installed. Each loft offers Energy Star-compliant appliances, and water consumption is reduced via front-loading washers and low-flow toilets. Redeveloping the existing properties also saved the construction materials from ending up in a landfill, and instead reduced construction costs, as compared to building the same quality new.
This development furthers Trenton’s goal of increasing homeownership by making homes with modern amenities available at affordable prices.
This development furthers Trenton’s goal of increasing homeownership by making homes with modern amenities available at affordable prices. Through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s (HMFA) homeownership construction subsidy program, CHOICE, the “emerging market” project received a subsidy of $75,000 per emerging market unit, as well as a reduced-interest-rate construction loan. The HMFA recognized that a market-rate residential project located in this transitional area would not be viable without subsidy, as the cost of construction would be more expensive than the feasible purchase price per unit.
The Cracker Factory has received wide community support and praise from organizations including the Trenton Historical Society, Trenton Landmarks Commission, the City of Trenton and the statewide historic preservation advocacy group Preservation New Jersey.
The successful redevelopment of The Cracker Factory breathes new life into not just a historic site but an entire neighborhood. It achieves the community’s vision of enhancing the integrity of historic landmarks and driving community building and economic revitalization by providing affordable homeownership opportunities.
Read the Cracker Factory Resolution by Senator Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.