Development was at the heart of the city’s most dramatic change, as the improved economy once again made the city a desirable part of the Hudson County Gold Coast.
Part of this shift came with the decision by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey mid-year to develop state-of-the art cruise-port facilities, making Cape Liberty at the former Military Ocean Terminal (MOTBY) the center for new residential and commercial development.
With a municipal election set for May, residents of Bayonne should look for a number of positive announcements early in the year, in particular a proposed hotel as well as a possible retail/residential development to complement the cruise port.
The Port Authority also began work on raising the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge in order to allow larger container ships to access the ports along Newark Bay. This was not without controversy because homeowners near the work area were subjected to the impacts of blasting in the Kill Van Kull by the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the remnant work of the Spectra gas pipeline that was installed on the southern and eastern ends of the city. Funding from the pipeline project, however, allowed the city to unveil plans to upgrade the Don Ahern Veterans Stadium.
New development around the city
New development included: groundbreaking for a new, expanded Royal Wine headquarters, the construction of affordable housing near the 45th Street Light Rail Station, the conversion of the former Maidenform factory into luxury housing on Avenue E, the construction of the long-awaited Camelot luxury development near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge, construction of a new Walgreen’s near the Broadway gateway section of the city, residential housing near the Kennedy Boulevard gateway, and a commercial/residential development in the Bergen Point section of Broadway, known as Transit Village.
By year’s end, new development was being considered at various other locations along Avenue E and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line.
The year saw the resignation of City Planner John Fussa, who had overseen a significant portion of the development plans in the city for more than a decade. He was replaced by Suzanne Mack.
In a move to do away with autonomous agencies, the city council voted to abolish the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority this year, leaving much of the development of city-owned land in the mayor’s office.
Troubles with Sandy
Two of the most significant events in late 2012 affected Bayonne going into the New Year: the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and Hurricane Sandy. The shooting in Connecticut refocused attention on local school security as well as security in the parks and playgrounds. Bayonne High School students participated in a regional project that dedicated a revamped park to the victims of Newtown.
With flooding on all sides of the city after Sandy, some businesses struggled to rebuild, and homeowners in places like First Street, County Village, and Avenue F near Route 440 tried to save what they could while seeking financial relief. FEMA made use of the Bayonne Community Museum to help those who sustained damage, including businesses that had suffered losses due to lack of power for nine days after the hurricane.
While it took the death of an infant in West New York to get the attention of state and federal officials elsewhere in Hudson County, Bayonne public-safety officials had already started inspections of jitney bus service in Bayonne.
Some sad farewells
The year was not without sad losses.
After an unsuccessful initiative to recruit new students, Holy Family Academy announced in April that it would close following graduation ceremonies in June. The school nearly closed four years earlier but managed to survive through fundraising and other efforts. But in the end, the lack of students and the annual costs of running the school proved too much.
Also this year, the city lost Nicholas Oresko, one of two Medal of Honor winners from Bayonne. The city named a school after Oresko, who was Grand Marshal of the Memorial Day Parade two years ago.
Eddie O’Rourke, whose interpretations of Elvis Presley music were legendary in Bayonne for more than 30 years, passed away in July. O’Rourke was not only famous locally but Lisa Marie Presley visited Bayonne to pay homage to him, cementing Eddie’s standing in the music community.
The death of Justin Belini in March touched a nerve among local residents. Justin, struck down by a hit-and-run driver on Avenue E, died slightly less than a year after his best friend had been killed in a motorcycle accident nearby.
The death of EMT Michael Burke in early December brought out hundreds of mourners, including public-safety personnel from around the county and the state.
Two fires in March raised concerns about some of the narrow streets in the city that emergency vehicles cannot access. Firefighters had to drag hoses down an entire block to reach Trembley Court. Meanwhile, a fire on Broadway resulted in the destruction of the very popular Harry’s Wine Cellar. Fortunately, by summer the store had reopened across the street from its original location.
Two men in April were arrested for allegedly making bombs and throwing them out the window of their apartment on 33rd Street. Although far less serious than first thought, the incident shook some residents because it followed so closely the tragedy in Newtown.
The city also arrested a notorious graffiti artist, not once, but twice.
Public safety was increased
The city this year saw the swearing in of new police officers and firefighters. The police also opened their new state-of-the-art headquarters early in the year.
While the new fire station on MOTBY wasn’t completed by the end of the year, most of the work was done. The fire station is poised to provide the east side of the city and new development with increased fire protection.
Public-safety unions settled their contracts, paving the way for predictable budgets over the next four years.
Overshadowing the year, however, was the still-unresolved contract with teachers, who protested monthly at school-board meetings and even marched on city hall to send a message. This also spurred the effort to establish an elected school board. While the petition drive failed, organizers said they would bring this up again in 2014.
Although voters rejected saving rent control in 2013, it became a hot subject for organizers who plan to reintroduce the measure for the May 2014 election.
Bayonne public schools thrived
Bayonne public schools made huge strides in 2013 that included upgrading their technology to meet new, stricter online testing for students, and opened an arts and academic academy, allowing the district to retain students who might have been lured away to academies elsewhere in the county or state.
The Bayonne High School Marching Band marched in the national Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. this year.
Marist High School upgraded its technology, allowing students to store and access information on the Internet cloud.
Bayonne Community Museum hosted a number of arts events this year, part of a move to expand cultural activities in the city.
Advances at Bayonne Medical Center
After a number of significant improvements, Bayonne Medical Center became a part of CarePoint Health network, with its own health-insurance program, its own cooperative network of doctors, and the combined power of three hospitals that would make it a rising star in the county’s health network. By year’s end, with CarePoint backing Bayonne-based McCabe Ambulance, it was even challenging the predominance of the Liberty Healthcare network with a proposed new ambulance service for Jersey City and possibly elsewhere.
Early election kickoff
Mayor Mark Smith announced his reelection early in the fall, unusually early. But he already faced two challengers by year’s end, including James Davis and Anthony Zanowic.
Gov. Christopher Christie came to Bayonne several times this year, once to kick off the raising of the bridge roadway, and later as part of his campaign for reelection. Bayonne voters came out big for Christie in November.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.