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Renaissance on the Waterfront and Beyond
Jersey City's
Reach for the Stars
Jerramiah Healy
By Jerramiah Healy
Mayor, Jersey City
Member, League Executive Board

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Mayor Healy poses with the concept model for the building known as the “vertical city,” shown on the left.

It wasn’t that long ago when New York Magazine spent considerable time, resources and column space to repeat its annual, “Jersey City isn’t as good as New York City” piece.

Yet, if you’re really in the know these days, you’re aware that New Jersey’s Destination City, its financial engine, its top job-producing municipality and the largest artist enclave is located in Jersey City. And guess what, world figures are making that distinction as well.

In February, world renowned Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, unveiled his first large-scale residential development in New Jersey; a 52-story, unique design that will take Jersey City’s surging skyline to even greater heights with his creation of a yet to be named masterpiece—something he described as a “vertical city.”

This cutting-edge, mixed-use design will offer 330 condo units, 120 live-work loft spaces, and will contain several restaurants and nightlife attractions, a pool, fitness center and open spaces, as part of this vertical city concept.

And we are still growing. Jersey City is already home to the five tallest buildings in the state. Donald Trump will soon add to that distinction, as one of his new towers is soon to be completed. With this truly unique architectural vision to add to our landscape by Mr. Koolhaas, I guess it’s an honor not to be called New York City.

As New Jersey’s second largest city—a population of 240,000—and perhaps the country’s most ethnically diverse community with more than 50 languages spoken in its schools, the former warehouse town of Jersey City has done some big-time growing up in a relatively short period.

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Donald Trump will soon add to Jersey City’s Reach for the Stars, as one of his new towers is soon to be completed.

Over the past 25 years, the height of high rise buildings in Jersey City has risen from a fairly common 25 stories to 45. With the advent of Trump Plaza, the new construction will stand 50 and 55 stories respectively, when both towers are complete.

And just recently, that limit was pushed to 67 stories when the Jersey City Planning Board approved the construction of the Metropolitan, just a stone’s throw east of City Hall.

But it’s not the height alone that will draw many to the Koolhaas building, a design called “revolutionary.” The “Kool” tower will become the centerpiece, for now, of the Powerhouse Arts District. A neighborhood designed by the city to preserve historic buildings and promote the arts by providing affordable housing and work-live units and gallery spaces to certified artists.

That effort is already well underway in other converted factories in the Downtown area, but this “Kool” design promises nearly ten times the amount of artist housing than previous similar projects in the Powerhouse Arts District.

There are many sides to evolution, some more visible than others, and I think this building is symbolic of our city’s truly coming of age in many ways. We were able to turn things around about two and a half decades ago with a burgeoning partnership with the LeFrak family’s vision for what is now Newport Center. The conversion of old rail yards into a new metropolis of office and financial buildings, residential towers and unlimited business opportunities kick started our renaissance on the waterfront.

But it didn’t end there. If Darwin could have viewed our metamorphosis he’d come up with even more theories on evolution. Then we added the amenities, the first class hotels and restaurants to complete the task. But our work is not done yet.

Jersey City was once a major industrial center, a place where factories once provided our citizens with solid employment.

Now, the factories are all but gone, and taking their place are new types of businesses that are providing new job opportunities. These opportunities translate into 30,000 jobs in the last 20 years, mostly in the financial and related fields.

Looking back, in 1980, there was less than a million square feet of Class A office space in the city. Today there is over 18 million square feet, making Jersey City the 12th largest downtown in the United States, according to Robert Cotter, head of the city Planning Division.

“There are over 8,000 units under construction within a mile of City Hall, and another 5,000 approved and at least 10,000 more in the planning stages,” Cotter said. “The Gold Coast is fulfilling its promise, as buildings race each other to the sky.”

This startling revival has occurred in the downtown section of the city and adjacent to the Hudson River waterfront. But its influence is spreading westward, one of my administration’s primary goals.
The story of our waterfront has been told many times, and it continues to change almost daily right before our eyes. But what I’m most proud of is that the success of our waterfront is taking root in the rest of the city. And one such significant barometer of that success contagion is the redevelopment of the former Jersey City Medical center, which is more than a mile away from the downtown waterfront.

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The Square, home to our historic Loew’s Theater, is still our transportation Hub with the Path, bus and taxi services available.

The former Medical Center, now The Beacon, stands truly as a beacon or barometer for development away from downtown. The massive reconstruction of what was once the city’s tallest structures, and known as the House that Hague built; the former Medical Center will become a 1,200 unit luxury condominium complex.

This renovation, a 14-acre, 10-building site located atop Montgomery Street has views of downtown Jersey City and Manhattan in its backdrop, is projected to cost $350 million. To date, this effort has roared out of the gates with 85 percent of the first 315 units available already sold.

And even further away from the waterfront at center of the city sits our crowning jewel, Journal Square, perhaps one of the most important projects in the city’s redevelopment.

The approved $600 million two-tower effort on behalf of Harwood Properties is a mixed-use venture where 1,034 apartments, parking and 150,000 square feet of retail will be encompassed in the 52-and 46 storied structures respectively. The project is expected to be more than just a shot of adrenalin for Journal Square.

Journal Square was the historic commercial heart of Jersey City. Unfortunately, the area has been neglected for decades and has descended into blight. While other administrations talked about Journal Square, we are doing something about it.

The Square, home to our historic Loew’s Theater, is still our transportation Hub with the Path, bus and taxi services available. I do believe the center of our city can once again shine and become the attraction for business and commerce it once was. Greater days are ahead, there is no disputing it.

There are many residential, offices and mixed-use projects ahead. In fact, the city’s Planning Division can hardly keep up with developers’ requests and proposals as rebirth and renewal stretch to the city’s outer limits. Investors are now seeking to develop the city’s less famous but equally important Silver Coast, the western waterfront at the Hackensack River.

The western coast is envisioned to be home to as many as 30,000 new dwellings over the coming decades. The Hudson Bergen Light Rail System would be extended to accommodate this growth as well as a proposed new PATH station in the western Marion section of town.

Like the rail yards and factories downtown, a former industrial giant like the 1.2 million square feet American Can Company on the city’s west side within the shadow of the Pulaski Skyway, is currently being converted into luxury lofts.

“The value of all this development is staggering,” Cotter said. “In an average month, our Planning Board approves a quarter billion dollars worth of construction. Currently, there is an estimated $5-billion in construction underway citywide.

And it can’t be underscored how the mass transit system has facilitated this growth without adding a single roadway. The subway connection to Manhattan via four PATH stops in the city, a ferry system, and the arrival of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail seven years ago, has made navigating the city not just a breeze, but also a convenient pleasure.

Sure, the heavy rail yards are long gone, and many of the factories have been replaced by office towers, but Jersey City once known for its gritty blue-collar work force hasn’t forgotten its roots.

My administration just championed a six-month battle to bring blue-collar job opportunities back to the city with the recent approval to develop AMB, a high-cubed mega-warehouse project, you guessed it, on the city’s western coast at Route 440.

This facility promises between 300-400 permanent blue-collar and decent paying jobs at a parcel of land that was unused for more than two decades and an eyesore to the community.

AMB is different than the big development we’ve realized over the years, but it is just as important to our residents who are in need of good paying jobs that may not be in the financial industry. Jersey City is getting better everyday and we have a little bit of something for everyone here. If people haven’t found it yet, it’s time to Discover Jersey City.

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The Power House Arts District was designed by the city to provide affordable housing and work/live units and gallery space to certified artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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