The Changing Bayonne

The Changing Bayonne
Newark Bay circa 1900s. Courtesy of the Bayonne Public Library

I realized that Bayonne was changing in the late 1980s when I represented a barge that had an oil spill at Exxon. I was surprised that so many residents of Bayonne, grandchildren of Standard Oil retirees, were upset about the pollution. Growing up in the 1950s, I knew both bays and the Kill were polluted and assumed they would always be. But now, residents will not stand for it. They want cleaner industries so they can enjoy Bayonne’s natural resources.

With older equipment and higher wages, some factories could no longer compete with plants elsewhere. These and other factors changed Bayonne. Companies that could adapt did well. New businesses, meanwhile, replaced heavy industry, taking advantage of Bayonne’s assets. The desire to enjoy our waterfront led to new housing and more public spaces on the shoreline.

Bridging the Gap

One company that did adapt is International–Matex Tank Terminals, butter known as IMTT. Founded by James Coleman in 1939 in Avondale, Louisiana, IMTT handles and stores bulk liquid products. It purchased the Exxon operations in 1993 after having purchased the Tidewater facilities in 1983. In 1997 IMTT purchased the Constable and Powell Duffryn Terminals and in 2004, the Coastal terminals at Bergen Point and Fifth Street. Today, IMTT has 620 oil tanks in Bayonne with a capacity of 16 million barrels and is the largest industrial property owner in the city. Much of the tug, barge, and tanker traffic on our waterways is going to or leaving from one of IMTT’s 21 docks. IMTT runs an efficient, clean operation that employs 370 workers, the largest private employer in the city. However, this number is a fraction of the people employed by Standard, Tidewater, and Texaco in their heyday. Most Bayonne residents no longer work or look for work on our waterfront.

Hauling and Holidays

However, there still are a lot of people (593,423 to be exact) going to our waterfront for another reason: vacation. That’s the number of cruise passengers who debarked from Bayonne in 2017. Three cruise lines operate from the Cape Liberty Cruise port that was part of the old MOTBY: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and TUI Cruises, a Hamburg-based company.  The companies will offer about 90 cruises from Bayonne in 2019 so these days, instead of sailors, we can expect to see a lot of tourists coming from that section of town.

In the 1950s, a trucking company executive had an idea that revolutionized the transportation industry. Malcolm McLean thought that if you could load the box that carried all of a truck’s cargo onto a ship, have the ship carry that box somewhere and load it back onto a truck or a rail car, you would save a lot of time and handling.  This was the birth of containerized shipping. For this system to work, the terminal must be readily accessible by road and rail and have space to hold thousands of containers. Piers in Manhattan and Brooklyn were not big enough, but Bayonne was ideal for containers. We had deep water in New York Bay and were close to the turnpike and the Greenville Rail Yards. We also had a wild, undeveloped section on the east side, south of the city line called the “Long Docks.”  It had been known primarily for cattails, called punks that kids dried and smoked; they looked like cigars. Two of my uncles once found a dead body there in this vacant marshland. Taking advantage of its location, Global Terminal began to set up a container port there in 1972. Today, Global Container Terminal consists of 167 acres with a 2,700-foot dock and eight huge gantry cranes. It’s a highly mechanized, automated operation employing around 500 people working on the “boxships.” It handles around 650,000 containers or similar lifts a year and can load100 containers onto a ship in an hour. With a water depth of 50 feet next to the pier, it can handle the largest container ships afloat.

On Firm Ground

Being in the center of the Eastern seaboard with easy rail, truck and, ship access, Bayonne has become a distribution center for many companies. The Baron Herzog group has two subsidiaries here. Royal Wine, the largest distributer of kosher wines in the world, is on LeFante Way. The grapes for Kedem wine are grown elsewhere, but the wine is bottled in Bayonne and sent around the world. Its sister company, Kayko, is the largest distributer of Kosher foods in the country, handling 150 brands. It stores 5,000 different frozen, grocery, and perishable products in its new state-of-the-art, 300,000-square-foot warehouse on New Hook Road. Among the many brands it distributes are Knorr Soup, Similac Formula, Lay’s Potato Chips and Lipton Tea.

Building Bayonne

The first areas to be developed as part of Bayonne’s building boom were the old industrial sites. The 32-acre Elco site, where hundreds of PT boats were built, turned into Boat Works in 2004. There are now 160 townhouses costing in the $400,000-range on the site. In 2009, Maidenform became Silk Lofts consisting of 85 studio and one- and two-bedroom units. The first residential units at MOTBY were opened in 2009. There are currently 554 residential units at Harbor Pointe with many more to come. Throughout the city many other sites are being developed as people who want to live by the water and be close to New York. City are lured here.

The Other Kind of Green

The Bayonne Golf Course may be the LaTourette Hotel of today. With a reported initiation fee as high as $150,000, it would appear to be designed for the very wealthy rather than the average Bayonne resident. Built on a former landfill, it has spectacular views of New York Bay and the lower Manhattan skyline. Viewed on a cold blustery January day, it is deserted, and it seems to some that this piece of Bayonne geography may be too valuable for an exclusive golf course.

Amid the building boom, the public has demanded that more areas of the shoreline be left undeveloped and open to the public. We all want to enjoy the views that Pierre DuPont had more than 150 years ago. The city has responded. There are nature trails at Rutkowski Park adjacent to Steven Gregg Park. Ahern-Veteran’s Park and DiDomenico-16th Street Park have been expanded. Dennis Collins Park has been improved and now takes up most of First Street. On the East side, the Hudson River Walkway Conservancy has plans for an 18.5 mile, 30-foot-wide path along the water from the George Washington Bridge to the tip of Bayonne. Much of the area in Bayonne is still privately owned though current plans include a walkway from the Teardrop Memorial, around the Golf Course almost to IMTT, a length of almost three miles. The area completed passes the spot where Henry Hudson and the Half Moon visited on September 11, 1609. Looking ahead one could envision more private/public cooperation to extend this path through industrial areas, giving Bayonne residents even more access to the waters that surround them.

Driven by its geography, Bayonne will continue to change and probably in ways no one can predict in 2019. —BLP

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