By 2025, a new major motion picture studio, likely be the largest in the state, will open on the former Texaco site in the Bergen Point neighborhood of Bayonne.
Before construction begins, the city held a town hall meeting with municipal professionals, redevelopment representatives, and residents on September 7 at the auditorium at Bayonne High School.
Mayor James Davis opened the presentation with brief remarks. Davis grew up in the area, just four blocks or so away at 4th Street and Kennedy Boulevard, and noted that area along Avenue A was a former industrial hub for over a hundred years.
Best Foods, CasChem, and Texaco used to provide stable jobs for many generations of Bayonne residents, Davis said. However, over time they shut down one by one, with Texaco closing in 1984.
“In my life, this is a transformation of the city, because of what I’ve seen go on there and where we’re going now,” Davis said.
According to Davis, only in the last eight years under his administration have these sites been redeveloped, with Best Foods becoming an Amazon delivery station, part of CasChem slated for a phased mixed-use residential and commercial buildings, and now Texaco set to become 1888 Studios.
With this redevelopment, Davis said the city was returning to its film industry roots. Bayonne residents and brothers David and William Horsely opened Centaur Film Company, the second motion picture studio in the U.S. and in New Jersey, in Bayonne in 1907.
Before there were any motion picture studios in Hollywood, Centaur opened an office and studio at 900 Broadway, now a dental office, and is thought to have later opened stages at 686-688 Avenue E, now a mixed-use residential and commercial building known as Legacy Lofts. Centaur later merged with its California affiliate Nestor Film Company to form Universal Film Manufacturing Company in 1912, now better known as Universal Pictures.
According to Davis, in his lifetime he never thought Bayonne would have “world-class” facilities including a golf course, a cruise port, and now a motion picture studio which could make the area “Hollywood on the Kill van Kull.”
‘Hollywood on the Kill van Kull’
Robert Benecke, the financial consultant for the redeveloper Togus Urban Renewal, LLC, said the 70 acre site consists of 58 acres of land and 12 acres of water. Currently, the site is in the preparatory stage, with the redeveloper already having invested $60 million dollars into remediating and grading the site, which Benecke called a testament to the project actually coming to fruition since the redeveloper was “putting hard money into the dirt.”
The project will be constructed by contractor Turner Construction, and will be “100 percent” union labor. According to Benecke, the site currently brings in $1.3 million in taxes annually, but when operational with the new motion picture studio, the site will bring in $7 million in taxes.
The production facilities at the studio will be home to over approximately 2,000 to 3,000 permanent jobs. And it is estimated that the project will generate over approximately 2,000 to 2,600 construction jobs, according to Benecke.
Project architect Michael White, from the architectural firm Gensler, explained the details of the site. White said the project was transforming a contaminated site to a state-of-the-art major motion picture studio.
White said 1888 Studios is respective of film history, deriving its name from the year Thomas Edison filed a patent for the motion picture camera, and a building on the premises may possibly be known as “The Edison.” The studio plans are also respective of the city’s history, extending Avenue A into the site with a street grid that copies the existing grid in the area.
The site will consist of 17 three-story buildings that match the nature of the existing neighborhood. Renderings show minimal changes between current site plans and those present for planning board approval. Of the land, 10 percent or roughly 6 acres will be open space in the form of a public park in between the studio site and the Bayonne Bridge along the Kill van Kull, which will likely be linked to nearby Dennis P. Collins Park, as well as a waterfront walkway constructed along the shore of the site.
There will be an Art-Deco themed grand entrance with the studio name, accompanied by a water tower, both traditional elements of motion picture studios. There will also be a nautical theme among the “high quality” buildings constructed at the site, an homage to the industrial maritime surroundings.
Construction to begin in 2023
Jim White, the head of development for 1888 Studios, announced that vertical construction will start in the first quarter of 2023 and will be completed in the second quarter of 2025. In order to protect the property from rising water levels, the land will be raised up by seventeen-and-a-half feet and a retaining wall will be constructed.
Brian Livesay, a specialist in design development, explained the jobs that will be created in production and studio operations. Workplaces within the studio complex will include mills, offices, and sound stages.
Livesay said that job categories at the complex will include camera operators, make-up artists, directors, building trades people, and office staff, among others, which he called the “nuts and bolts” and “real magic” behind movies. He predicted that studio employees will have a very positive impact on Bayonne’s economy by buying goods and services in the community.
On the topic of givebacks to the community, Benecke said there will be a job fair held for construction jobs, and there will be a job fair for production employees once the site is constructed. There will be some educational component to help the community and school involvement, possibly an apprenticeship program. In addition to the park and waterfront walkway, there will also be improvements to Avenue A among other things, totaling $50 million in public improvements.
Benecke said that the redevelopers are investing $700 million investment in construction costs, and an additional $200 million in land costs and redevelopment fees. That equals roughly $900 million, nearly a billion dollar investment in Bayonne.
A financial agreement will support the massive project. Michael Hanley, the city’s financial advisor from NW Financial Services, said there will be $200 million in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement payments made to the city over 30 years, with $135 million of that going into the municipal budget. Hanley said that 1888 Studios will become the largest non-government and non-healthcare taxpayer in the city
The first year of the pilot will see a payment of nearly $7 million dollars, which will increase to $31 million by the 30 year mark. A bond will be secured by the PILOT payments and a direct pay letter of bank acceptable to the city, Hanley said. He noted this was a “tremendous financial and jobs opportunity” and an “economic generator” for the region.
A question-and-answer period with the audience followed the presentations. Second Ward City Councilwoman Jacqueline Weimmer said she was “ecstatic” about the developer’s use of union labor and asked about which bank will be underwriting the development. She also expressed the hope that the studios could provide space and assistance for local schools or nonprofit organizations. Benecke said that no bank has been selected yet for the financing, and that the studio will reach out to local schools for educational programs.
City Public Information Officer Joe Ryan inquired about naming streets in the studio complex after Centaur and for various locally born actors. Architect Michael White indicated a definite interest in those ideas for streets around the studios.
Addressing resident questions and concerns
Local businessman and show business personality Paul DeAngelo asked about traffic that will be created by the studio jobs. The developer’s representatives explained that the studios will have a “discrete” separate entrance and that more than 2,100 parking spaces will be provided for the employees, including those who work the overnight shift, and that traffic will not be frequently coming and going.
Patrick Kelleher, president of the Hudson County Building Trades and Business Agent for the Plumbers and Pipefitters, thanked Davis and the City Council for supporting the studio project considering it will be “100 percent” union labor. He confirmed that the building trades will hold a job fair to recruit local workers for the studio construction.
Mike Ruscigno of the Bayonne Nature Club asked about the timing of the waterfront walkway that will be developed next to the studios. Company spokesmen explained that it will be built in two phases. First, piles will need to be installed in the ground. Later, after more studio construction is completed, the walkway will be built.
Davis closed the program by thanking everyone for coming and participating. He said this is the first of many public meetings on the redevelopment.
Davis predicted that the major motion picture studio development “will transform our city.” The mayor said that Bayonne has moved from “the brink of bankruptcy” to a “turnaround,” adding that the forthcoming UPS logistics center at the former Military Ocean Terminal and the new studio complex were the latest signs of Bayonne’s turnaround.
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