Rutgers event traces history, looks at future of New Jersey’s Gold Coast

November 26, 2013

On October 25, the Bloustein Local Government Research Center hosted a symposium, “The New Jersey Gold Coast: How We Got Here and Where We Are Going,” that reviewed the history of the area and discussed its future. The half-day event was held at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy in New Brunswick. Below follows a summary of the event, including a brief description and history of the area, what the future holds, and the ongoing political impact of the region.

Bloustein Local is managed by Director and University Professor Raphael J. Caprio, Ph.D., and Assistant Director Marc Pfeiffer. The Center would like to thank Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner; long-time Jersey City Planning Director Robert Cotter, PP, FAICP; Edgewater Borough AdministratorGregory Franz; and Arthur Imperatore, Jr., President of NY Waterways for their time and contributions to this event.  Data analysis and presentations were made by Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy graduate students Theadora Paulucci and Xunjing (Lisa) Wu.

Introduction

From wikipedia.com

From wikipedia.com

Since the late 1970’s, the 19-mile Hudson waterfront area has been moving away from its historical role as the nation’s railhead and the industrial detritus that the era left behind.  Known today as the “Hudson-Bergen Gold Coast,” the area has evolved from an intense, gritty industrial past to a region largely consisting of high-density, affluent residential buildings, office towers, and retail centers.  It is the region’s economic dynamo of job creation and residential, commercial, and office development.

The Gold Coast comprises twelve municipalities from Hudson and Bergen counties. While several of the older, core urban municipalities within this region experienced a loss of population through the 1970’s, the Gold Coast currently is experiencing a population regeneration— coming close to or exceeding the population numbers of the 1970’s.

Once a predominantly white region, it has changed both racially and ethnically since 1970. The area has evolved into a highly diverse mosaic which not only includes localized clusters of whites but also African-Americans, a variety of South and Central American Latino communities, and east and west Asian ethnic groups. It is an area increasingly seen as a destination for young professionals, with over 56,000 new residential housing units constructed since 1980. In addition, the equalized value of property increased over twentyfold in Jersey City, tenfold in Hoboken, and five- to sixfold in the cities of Fort Lee, North Bergen, and Bayonne.

Yesterday and Today

From wikipedia.com

From wikipedia.com

Prior to 1950, the Hudson/Bergen shoreline had dozens of piers that were the terminus of countless railroad tracks from across the country, moving goods by ferry and barge to and from New York City.  As commerce evolved and became less reliant on railroads—driven by the advent of container shipping and new highways, tunnels and bridges—the need for extensive railroads, piers, and ferries was effectively eliminated. Fires led to destruction of piers that were previously left to rot, while others were simply abandoned; miles of railway right-of-way were abandoned. Time would be needed for the regional economy to evolve, and for the affected cities to rehabilitate their infrastructure to meet the needs of this new economy.

Economic pressures within the New York City-based financial sector in the early 1980s led to its embracing of the shift of back-office functions to lower cost locations on the Gold Coast, stimulating significant office construction. This created a virtuous development cycle: investments in transit opportunities through the PATH system and NJ TRANSIT led to more development, spurring the New York Waterways ferry and its Manhattan bus routes and their connections to NY mass transit.  These activities encouraged additional office and residential construction north of Hoboken, followed by the development of the north-south Hudson Bergen Light Rail. The light rail has created new opportunities for businesses, commuters, and residents to easily and inexpensively access the shoreline from West New York to Bayonne.

As the region grew, developers found the Gold Coast to be a lower cost and more easily accessible alternative to Manhattan for housing and offices, the construction of which led to increased retail and service industry activity to support the growing residential and business population.

The Future

Today development is predominantly residential, both rental and condominium. The Great Recession, however, has left the region with a significant excess of high-class office space; it may be years, therefore, before more is needed. An example of possible future trends is Jersey City’s Journal Square Development, encompassing three high-rise residential and commercial improvements located at a transit center. There is still room for growth in Jersey City and Edgewater, and to a lesser extent in Weehawken, despite significant growth over the past several decades. Bayonne, with fits and starts to the redevelopment of its former industrial and military use land, also has significant redevelopment capacity.

Expansion of the light rail system can have an impact beyond the Gold Coast as it can serve as a feeder to the ferry and rail transit systems, taking advantage of existing capacity to move people to and from New York, and to business located along the coast.

Local Political Impact

From wikipedia.com

From wikipedia.com

Like those who called the region home decades ago, today’s diverse and multi-cultural residential population are focused on quality, affordable, and efficient municipal services. In addition to hiring employees who are multi-lingual and able to provide better citizen service to residents of diverse backgrounds, municipal services continue to evolve to meet the needs of their residents. Municipalities are adopting policies and services responding to the paradoxes of their residents: age (millennials and aging boomers), diversity in race and culture, and income, reflected by housing needs (the range from affordable to gentrifying).

The former industrial nature of the areas being redeveloped requires significant environmental remediation and infrastructure rehabilitation.  Accordingly, several cities since the 1980’s—notably,   Jersey City, Bayonne, Hoboken, Fort Lee and West New York—granted redevelopers long-term tax exemptions to facilitate redevelopment, offset in significant part by payments in lieu of taxation. These exemptions offset the additional costs associated with prior industrial parcels and assisted in their economic viability. The practice is currently being refined to target its effect and to provide a more favorable balance to the public.

 

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