In a report before the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce in early March, City Planner John Fussa said signs were hopeful for Bayonne development despite tough economic times.
Other business leaders have also highlighted advances in local business that seems to indicate Bayonne may be on the upswing, if ever so slightly.
Fussa, who has been employed by the City of Bayonne for more than a decade, said it has been a difficult few years for the city and that a number of projects, plans and efforts had been delayed or modified as a result of what some have called “The Great Recession.”
At the same time, the city has seen a number of accomplishments over the last few years in a very difficult environment.
One of the most significant was the Bayonne Crossing shopping mall, which is just completing its last piece and is valued at about $84 million.
“It was the only constructed mall to close during the 2008-2009 year in the State of New Jersey,” Fussa said. “This was a redevelopment effort the city started in 2004.”
Recently the Bayonne Energy Center on Hook Road, which is a 512-megawatt power plant, came online with an overall value of between $300 million to $400 million.
Upgrading the Shop Rite at its Avenue C location was a big boon for maintaining the central shopping district, Fussa said.
The store serves as an anchor in the town center and it was feared that it might move to a more remote location when it upgraded. This new facility has a total value of about $15 million.
Winners Off-Track Wagering Facility, which opened its doors in 2012 on Route 440 near Fifth Street, has a value between $14 million and $15 million.
Despite a general downturn in the economy over the last four or five years, the city has done fairly well, Fussa said.
In 2012, the city issued 166 residential building permits, as well as approved about 8,300 square feet of office space, slightly more than 10,000 square feet of retail space and 210,000 square feet of non-residential industrial space. These have a total reported value of about $47 million.
“That’s all through the city and the city’s building department,” Fussa said.
These totals are good for a down economy, but he said about half the volume the city was seeing in early 2000s.
“The trend line seems to be ticking up ever so slowly,” he said, noting that he is hesitant to predict a trend because sometimes things move had one step forward then back two steps.
While the city is still focusing on big projects such as the Texaco site near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge, the 440 corridor and eventually further development at the former Military Ocean Terminal, over the last few years the city has been working with developers on smaller, more feasible projects that banks would be more likely to finance, owners can provide equity for capital contribution, and for which there is a market.
One such place is at 577 Broadway, owned by a local family, which has a second floor that has been vacant for a long time. This space has been redeveloped into 14 nearly market-rate apartments. Another place is located at 555 Broadway.
The former Price Tag store at Broadway and 31st Street moved to another part of the city. The old building was left vacant and blighted for several years but has since been renovated into a new medical practice with a rentable store front.
“We’re seeing a return to fundamentals and an emphasis on quality of life, services and Bayonne’s location near New York City,” Fussa said. “Bayonne is well situated near a major airport, a seaport and New York City, and it will be a valued location in the region for mixed use development we see happening elsewhere. Bayonne is more affordable and has lower land costs, and this makes it attractive to developers. The rental market seems to be fairly good as well.”
The city is currently involved in planning for the future, setting up a roadmap for the next wave of development. This includes an upgrade of the city’s Master Plan, which last saw a major revision in 2001.
Redevelopment plans include a new study conducted for the area around the 22nd Street raid station in conjunction with the Local Assistance Program of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This could result in a revised redevelopment plan for later this year.
An older scattered site redevelopment plan from 2006 reaped a number of benefits to the city, especially in the northern gateway near Jersey City where a new Walgreens at 53rd and Broadway will join the new TD bank and Quick Chek in redevelopment of formerly blighted properties. Also slated for redevelopment but not mentioned by Fussa is the planned upgrade of the Chandelier Restaurant in the same area.
Near Route 440, the former AGC Chemical plant site is about to start work as the new world headquarters for Royal Wine, a 300,000 square foot facility.
Currently under construction near the Bayonne Bridge is the long anticipated high-end rental facility, Camelot, being constructed by Kaplan Companies.
The city is also trying to move ahead with possible redevelopment of the former Best Food site on Avenue A, as well as the parking lot near the 34th Street Light Rail station near Prospect Avenue.
Working with officials from the state Department of Transportation, the city is looking at a possible redevelopment overlay for the Bergen Point area of the city near the Eighth Street Station that could possibly involve three former food market sites, while offering protection to residential properties that might otherwise be at risk.
“We’re seeing a return to fundamentals and an emphasis on quality of life, services and Bayonne’s location near New York City.” – John Fussa
Terrence Malloy, executive director of the city’s Urban Enterprise Zone, said 2012 was a fairly successful year for the city’s business district, and there may be some more progress to be expected, such as a possible new retailer taking over the large vacated BlockBuster site on Broadway.
Along with the new Walgreens uptown, Bayonne’s shopping district has seen a host of new businesses starting up include two gold buyers, a Spanish restaurant, several beauty salons, a new driving school, another discount store, and the opening of a Planet Wings franchise.
While the economy may have struggled over the last few years, people still need to do business in town in many key areas such as food shopping, car repairs, gasoline purchases and dining out.
“The more people shop along Broadway, the more stores have to hire people and the more disposable income people have to spend here,” Malloy said.
One of the very successful initiatives from last year was the Bayonne Farmers’ Market, which will return in the spring, Malloy said.
“This not only brought people in the shopping district, but it also demonstrates that if the quality is there, Bayonne residents will support upscale shopping opportunities,” he said.
To attract people to the business district, the UEZ and Special Improvement District are continuing a number of events including Holiday Tree Lighting, Horse and Buggy Ride with Santa, Santa strolling Broadway, a cartoon character Christmas event, Christmas carolers along Broadway, holiday ornament decorating contest, a hayride, a pumpkin decorating contest, a costume contest, multiple events including caricature drawing, face painting, balloon sculpting, and sand art along Broadway, and free hot chocolate along Broadway in season.
In an effort to spruce up the shopping district and create a mall-like friendly shopping experience, the UEZ helped rebuild 22 store front facades.
“During the summer every Saturday will have an event,” Malloy said.
In 2012, businesses in the district created 457 new jobs and UEZ members made $270 million in capital investments during that same period.