Construction will begin on the new and improved Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza after officials and business owners broke ground on the nearly $6.7 million project.
It will transform the pedestrian plaza, replacing the green roadway painted with leftover tennis court paint into a permanent destination and community fixture with pavers, lighting, and a stage.
The pedestrian mall was first closed to vehicles in 2015 as an experiment to limit traffic and create a pedestrian destination.
Proving to be an economic and cultural boon to the city, the plaza was extended to a second block in 2018, stretching from Grove Street to Jersey Avenue.
In 2020 it was expanded to include portions of Grove Street from Montgomery Street to First Street during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow businesses along “restaurant row” to expand capacity.
Now following a design process that included public input, the city awarded the $6.69 million construction contract to JC Contracting Inc, which will immediately begin the overhaul.
The plaza, with large planters on either end to block traffic, will be raised and upgraded.
The upgrades include granite pavers that will not only replace the green painted asphalt but elevate the street to match the existing sidewalk height to provide better wheelchair and stroller accessibility and present a more cohesive structure.
To help with drainage during rains, decorative trench drains will line the existing curb, and garden tree planters will be installed.
Additions will include café lighting for improved visibility and a stage area for community events.
“We always viewed the street here as temporary with the infrastructure that you see today,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “Today is a step in the direction of making it a more permanent and significant destination for Jersey City and all of northern New Jersey.”
A phased approach
According to Fulop, construction will be done in phases to minimize the impact on the business community which has used the plaza to expand its dining capacities outdoors during the pandemic.
“The plan is to phase this every couple of weeks and work with the business owners to minimize the impact on the pedestrian plaza [during] the warmer weather,” said Fulop, noting the Historic Downton Special Improvement District (HDSID) has been involved in the plan and the timeline.
“It’s a long-term investment in downtown Jersey City … and there is no perfect time to do it,” Fulop said. “You can’t do this type of work in the cold weather really, so we are going to try and do this as quickly as possible to have a minimal impact on these businesses. Ultimately we think the outdoor dining that you’ve seen throughout COVID is going to stay here in some form, and certainly we value spaces like this even more so now since the pandemic started.”
Construction will take approximately six months. The plaza is estimated to be completed by the end of October.
Steven Kalcanides, owner of Helen’s Pizza and president of the HSID, thanked the city for “making this dream a reality.”
He recalled that before Newark Avenue became a pedestrian plaza, the retail businesses along the street had started to leave when the mall opened, but since the plaza opened, the street has evolved into restaurant row.
“When we started talking about closing the street, a lot of the businesses were worried that there’s no traffic going to be coming through, but no traffic was a plus because now you have people, we have families walking up and down the closed plaza,” Kalcanides said. “It became a very people-friendly environment. This new project with the [new] streetscape is going to make it a game-changer.”
Mark Khan, owner of Downtown Yogurt, said the pedestrian plaza has been a successful example of what a business community can do when it sticks together, adding “we are extremely excited to be a part of this.”
He noted that they decided to open on the corner of Grove Street and Newark Avenue in 2014 due to the community but had no idea at the time that Newark Avenue would become a pedestrian plaza.
“We had no idea that this was going to ultimately be such a successful pedestrian mall,” he said, adding that once vehicular traffic ceased to flow down the street “new throngs of people” came to the area.