The Bayonne Planning Board has approved a major motion picture studio at the southern tip of the city. The movie studio, 1888, named after the year the motion picture camera was invented by Thomas Edison, will give a facelift to a long-vacant site.
The studio will be constructed by 1888 Studios, LLC at Avenue A and West 1st Street, the former site of the Texaco oil refinery site. The 2.2 million square foot property, owned by Togus Urban Renewal, LLC, also saw a minor subdivision approved to consolidate it into one tax lot encompassing the entire 74.35 acres.
On the west side of Avenue A, the property continues until it abuts the western portion of the Caschem site. On the east side of Avenue A, the site terminates at 1st Street. The Starting Point Bar and Grill is across the street at the corner of Avenue A and 1st Street, as well as White Glove Moving and Storing.
Past that intersection, after passing under an arched entryway emblazoned with the the studio’s name, the street will transform from Avenue A to Paseo. Past that is a security checkpoint, before Paseo continues straight until it culminates in a roundabout in front of the creative office building.
The studio site will consist of 20 buildings including a mix of 10 studio sound stages, five mill buildings where stages will be constructed and stored, attached office uses that will support the studio buildings, and a post-production office building, and a creative office building. A lighting and grip building, a central utility plant, utility yard, a trash and recycling area, and a facilities yard will be constructed to support the studio use along with surface and four sub-surface parking structures.
The sound stages are one-story buildings, the attached offices will be four stories. The architecture will be notably Art Deco, nostalgic of the movie industry’s past, which the city is no stranger to. Bayonne was home to Centaur Film Company, the first independent movie studio in the country, founded in 1907. Centaur’s West Coast division was Nestor Motion Picture Company, which became the first motion picture company in Hollywood in 1911.
‘Largest ground-up studio in North America’
The plans were presented to the board at a special meeting on March 30 by attorney for the applicant Mathew Posada.
“This studio complex will be, in fact, the largest ground-up move studio ever developed in North America,” Posada said.
According to Posada, the application has been carefully crafted over 18 months and is fully conforming, with no variances. He touted the jobs the project will bring in terms of construction, noting that the re-developer was pro-union.
“When talking about construction jobs, from start to finish roughly speaking, about 2,500 employees will be employed at some given time,” Posada said. “Not all at once, but throughout the duration to construct this project.”
In terms of regular employees of the studio, Posada said that there will be at any time approximately 2,100 people employed at the site. The re-developer agreed to hold a job fair to offer Bayonne residents first serve after a request by Commissioner Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, who is also City Council President and mayoral candidate in the May 10 municipal election.
In addition to the employment opportunities, the studio will also offer apprenticeships to the students of the Bayonne School District. The details will be worked out once the studio is constructed and a tenant is identified.
“It is our duty and responsibility to invest back in the community,” Posada said.
Waterfront walkway and park
In addition to those benefits, the re-developer is going to construct a waterfront walkway around the perimeter of the site, per New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations. The walkway will add approximately 3 or 4 miles worth of walkway along the Newark Bay and Kill Van Kull.
The walkway will turn away from the waterfront at the Bayonne Bridge, and head between the site and the Bayonne Bridge toward 1st Street. While there are plans to continue the walkway under the bridge and to nearby parks, that is still being negotiated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The walkway will be similar to those in other Hudson communities, 16 feet wide. Landscaping will line the walkway, consisting of indigenous flora tolerant of the marine atmosphere. An access road to the walkway will exist at the intersection of West 1st Street and Avenue A, with parallel parking spaces and bollards separating the turnaround area from the walkway.
“This waterfront walkway that’s before you right now would be one of the most glorious in the region,” said one of the project engineers, Joseph Fleming.
At the southeast tip of the site, the re-developer will construct a community park. In response to another request by Ashe-Nadrowski, Posada agreed that the re-developer will be willing to hold community meetings with the nearby residents to determine what recreational amenities are put in the park.
Vice Chairwoman Maria Valado, who is also the Board of Education President and is running for the Third Ward City Council seat on Ashe-Nadrowski’s slate, and other officials noted the isolation of the walkway, to which the re-developer agreed to install emergency mechanisms to alert the authorities akin to what can be found on college campuses. Valado and Ashe-Nadrowski also pushed for a dedicated bike lane on the walkway, to which the re-developer said they would abide by the DEP, which has the ultimate decision on that.
Resiliency efforts and construction timeline
A number of expert witnesses testified to details of the behemoth project. One of the project engineers was Fleming, who also worked on Kaplan Companies’ proposed residential project for the same site that fell through.
According to Fleming, the site will be increased in elevation by roughly 18 feet. This aims to address potential flooding now and in the future.
“Baked into this design, we have taken into account sea level rise over the next 50 years,” Fleming said. “Everything that is part of this application has taken into account the full resiliency of the site, as well as potential sea level rise.”
The existing sea well on the site will be utilized as part of the project. Fleming added that the redevelopment of the Texaco site will also address local flooding simply due to the site grade changes.
“We know we’ve always had nuisance flooding between West 1st and West 2nd Street,” Fleming said. “By virtue of this development, without doing anything else in this corridor, we are minimizing the watershed area that’s tributary to that area by a wide margin.”
According to another project engineer, Craig Hermann, there will be no phasing of the project. It will be constructed all at once, over the span of a few years.
“There is no anticipated phasing for the project,” Hermann said. “It’s anticipated that the overall construction will be about two and a half to four years.”
Parking and architecture
In total, 2,127 parking spaces will support these employees spread throughout underground parking structures, which aim to prevent cluttering of surface parking lots on the site.
There will be 107 electric vehicle parking spaces, with 21 on the surface and 86 in the garages. Officials including consulting engineer Andrew Raichle encouraged the developer to pre-wire for more electric vehicle parking in the future.
There will be 20 parking spaces total along the waterfront walkway access road. “This is a lot more provided than others,” Hermann said referencing Weehawken and West New York.
In true movie studio fashion, there will be 119 golf cart parking spaces. The carts are used to easily maneuver the site, and are commonplace at such facilities.
Traffic engineer Karl Pehnke testified that, as a result of the traffic study done in preparation for the site, that a signal will be needed at 1st Street and Avenue A. He estimated that much of the traffic will come in the morning over a period of time, and that other signalization was not necessary in the immediate area.
Architecture and other plans
The site will be pedestrian-friendly, walkable like a college campus. The set up of the buildings is an extension of the grid of the existing streets of Bayonne, seeking to blend in with surroundings. The only thing that may stick out is the iconic water tower, which is synonymous with any major motion picture studio.
“If you go to any major film studio lot, the three iconic things that you see are: the premium entry gate that conjures up that feeling, the stylistic look and feel of the buildings that tend to be Art Deco, and they all have water towers,” project architect Jack Paruta said. “So we threw that in to continue that story of this being a nostalgic film studio.”
According to Paruta, 25 percent of the buildings would have green roofs or solar panels. This equates to approximately 238,000 square feet in solar panels across six to eight buildings.
A recreational pier, waterfront marina, and heliport were not part of the application. However, they are permitted under the redevelopment, so if the studio wanted to construct those things, they could if they came back to the board for amended site plan approval.
Project planner John McDonough repeated the site plan was fully compliant with the redevelopment plan: “This is one of those one-of-a-kind projects that only comes around every now and then. It is going to be a showpiece for the city and beyond, certainly a jewel. Taking a dead site and making it something special.”
Throughout the hearing, commissioners and members of the public asked questions from parking and traffic, to bird watching on the waterfront walkway. However, no one who spoke opposed the project. After the hearing, commissioners lauded the planned studio prior to holding a vote. Commissioner Ramon Veloz called it smart development.
‘I’m very excited about this application, especially because I am a resident and love the city. That particular section needs something like that and this is going to benefit Bayonne in every sense of the word. This will create jobs, opportunities for residents of Bayonne, especially the students, in this field that is growing.”
Commissioner Thomas Maiorano, whose first meeting it was as a commissioner, was also excited about the studio.
“There are very few, virtually no, purpose-built studios on the East Coast. Everything that they use as studios on the East Coast are retrofit buildings… This are very difficult things to get built, virtually impossible to finance… so kudos to them on that front. The jobs potential is fantastic… It’s an economic multiplier for the city, the county, the state.”
Commissioner George Becker agreed, as did Valado, and Ashe-Nadrowski who said: It’s a great opportunity for the city” and applauded the “fantastic developer.”
“Welcome to Bayonne,” said Valado, who had presided as chair of the meeting due to the absence of Chairwoman Karen Fiermonte.
The board voted 5-0 unanimously to approve the application.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.