Developers and Makers

Bayonne has historically been a city of makers. Decades as a major industrial city are now in the past and Bayonne is transitioning into the modern urban puzzle piece missing from the New York metropolitan region.

In his new book, The New Urban Crisis, famed urbanist and Newark native, Richard Florida, dismisses the idea of a diluted creative class in the New York City region. Many harken back to the good old days of the 1960s-1980s in the East Village, when industrial-era rents could support sculptors, painters, and modern artists of all kinds. Today, he concedes, the Village is a playground for the wealthy, as well as some of the most successful artists, but what he calls the “creative class” today is more diverse and geographically sparse. Creatives are no longer clustered into small areas like the Village, but spread across the urban region.

Maybe Richard Florida is familiar with Bayonne, where the trends he describes can be acutely observed. The creative class, which often make up young urban professionals, come to Bayonne from all over, from high-rent hipster capitals like Williamsburg to New Jersey’s diverse range of cities, suburbs, and rural regions. Bayonne, for the first time in a while, offers an environment attractive to all age groups. Now, Bayonne needs space for the newcomers to live, work, and play, and development will provide that space.

Anyone with eyes (or ears) can detect the development boom in the city. The Hudson Bergen Light Rail expansion in the early 2000s laid the groundwork for that to happen, as most development is taking place in the neighborhoods surrounding the light rail stations. Bergen Point, for instance, has the 8th Street Light Rail. Nearby, a 22-story tower is planned for North Street. It will be the tallest building in Bayonne by about ten stories.

Perhaps the most intriguing development planned so far is the Promenade, a 440-acre development village on the former Texaco site directly west of the Bayonne Bridge.

Dennis P. Collins Park will effectively continue into four more parks in the development, including a baseball field, soccer field, playground, amphitheater, ice skating rink, and a river walkway. At least 250 condominiums and 750 luxury units will make way for thousands of new residents, while the 134,000 square feet of retail space will provide small businesses a place to set up shop.

Meanwhile, the former Military Ocean Terminal Base (MOTBY) off the 34th Street station will house thousands more in developments that will be similar in nature to the Promenade. In addition to parks that will connect MOTBY to South Cove Commons, and the rest of the county, the area may also feature a ferry, which the city has been in talks to install for some time, providing much-needed mass transit options for residents and newcomers alike.

Broadway and Avenue A are also home to numerous developments.

While development is celebrated in Bayonne, a city that was in urgent need of investment, it comes with sacrifices, namely space. New apartments cost too much for many current residents, but urban spaces across the country are making up for it with reinvigorated public and private spaces, such as parks, restaurants, and bars.

Future Bayonne residents may have to make due with less square footage, but Bergen Point councilman, Tommy Cotter said that you can’t put a price on small communities.

“It’s my job to bring neighbors out to come closer together,” said Cotter. “We’re in a city, so we need entertainment. It’s like a garden of Eden down here.”

Residents like Cotter, and his neighbor, Mayor James Davis, have lived in Bergen Point all their lives. Cotter said that Bayonne communities are changing. People used to come home from work, close the door and stay to themselves. Now, residents have plenty to do outside their homes, which can make it well worth the rising cost.

One of Bayonne’s most successful developments is Silk Lofts, which was converted from the old Maidenform Factory on Avenue E. Across the street is Lot 13, a bar that caters to the music scene in town. Jazz artist T.K. Blue was playing jazz at a recent jazz jam hosted in the bar’s back room, which was converted from a carriage house. “It’s great playing in Bayonne,” said T.K. “I always get good vibes here.”

The bar’s owner, Jean Stewart, practically became a carpenter converting an old bar into a new one with her husband after saving for years as a bartender in the Village. The old bar was a wreck when she bought it. “We thought this was a wall,” said Stewart, pointing to a window that leads to the music space/old carriage house. “So when they cleaned it we realized there were windows. Then we realized the yellow wallpaper was tin foil covered in smoke.”

The bar has come a very long way since she and her husband first bought it in 2009 and opened in 2012. They now serve one of the best burgers in town, along with craft beers and plenty of music events.

One of her patrons calls it the “CBGB’s of Jersey,” after a former CBGB’s bartender who lives in town gave the bar the distinction.

“I don’t mind you saying it at all,” said Stewart. “But she said it, not me!”