-Nancy Kist, Executive Director BLRA By Tom Dwyer
Sometimes a development project can be so massive it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it. You know that it’s moving forward, but where’s the end? The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor fits this category. The Riverview Observer spoke with Nancy Kist, the Executive Director of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority, to get an update on the ongoing project.
In 1999 the US Army lowered the flag at MOTBY—the Military Ocean Terminal, a 430-acre former military base that jaunts out into the Hudson River off of Rt 440. In 2002, the city of Bayonne took over complete ownership of MOTBY through the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority and renamed the property The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor. Since then the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority has been working to transform the old base into a world-class mixed-use waterfront community of residential, light industrial, commercial and recreational space. The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor is currently the largest redevelopment effort underway in the metropolitan region.
The goals and objectives of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority are to, establish a mixed-use waterfront community that incorporates “smart growth” principles and re-connects Bayonne to its waterfront; create quality jobs and tax ratables; and improve the overall quality of life in Bayonne.
There are some people who feel that this project is taking too long. Is it?
I understand some people’s frustration. But, I think everyone needs to put this development and the scope of it in its proper contexts. This sight is 430 acres which is four times the size of Battery Park City in downtown Manhattan. That project did not happen over night nor did the waterfront in Hoboken or Jersey City. The plans for the Jersey City waterfront started in the 1970’s. These projects take time to happen. And it’s important that we develop this project in a rational fashion so that we don’t have any mistakes down the line like traffic congestion or sewage that has nowhere to flow. This has to be done in an orderly way.
One of the other concerns put forth by the local unions is that a container port should be part of the overall development plan?
There will be a maritime district that will have more union jobs then currently exist. The unions are currently employed by the stevedore companies that handle the cruise ships that call here. We are looking to bring in more union jobs in a rational way. It may not be containers; it might be something a little less intensive because the problem in putting a container port here is that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for new infrastructure, and with our residential plans for townhouses and mix use, no one will want to live near a container port that will be operating 24/7 with bright lights and constant noise. So we are looking for other providers in the cargo industry that would produce longshoreman jobs that would be more compatible with our plan.
The master plan created by your department is very detailed and shows six distinct areas of development: Maritime Industrial District, Harbor Station, Bayonne Bay, The Landing, Loft District, and Bayonne Point. Where are we with some of this development?
We are moving forward on many fronts. We already have Harbor View Park open which allows access to Bayonne’s eastern waterfront—the first time in 60 years, and we are creating new jobs. We have 940 workers employed by the new tenants, a 100-percent increase from three years ago. The movie industry has discovered Bayonne and many films have been shot here, plus, a residential project of 530 rental units will be breaking ground this year. But first we are laying out the road grids and placing fill material on the site to get it outside the 100-year flood zone. The majority of this site lies within the flood zone and you can’t build on or within this flood zone—no one will insure you. This has been a monumental effort to raise the property, which again goes back to the question by some people who think there is nothing going on here. There’s a lot going on here, it’s just going on at the ground or sub-ground level.
On January 30, 2006, the BLRA received a no further action letter from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The NFA letter was confirmation by NJDEP that no further action is necessary for environmental remediation of The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor. There must have been a massive environmental cleanup needed in order to move forward on the development phase?
The cleanup was completed in 2005. The remediation process took 2 1/2 years, several years less than the Army Corps of Engineers originally predicted, and under the direction of the BLRA, was completed on budget and ahead of schedule.
Nobody wants to live or work on a site that requires active environmental remediation. The remediation slowed down the development. During the time we were doing the cleanup, we went out and persuaded Royal Caribbean to come onboard. We found a company that could peacefully co-exist with the environmental cleanup. This worked because we had people coming in two or three times a week to get on a cruise ship and leaving, so we did not have to worry about people being exposed to environmental contaminants.
I think it’s fair to say that Royal Caribbean, which is located on the Peninsula, has been an early success?
It runs like clockwork and it’s one of the highest rated ports in the country. We are very pleased with the cruise lines and believe that more successes will happen like that as the development moves forward. We know that there is some public frustration, but the public needs to see the big picture.
Bayonne is a small town with its own identity. Some people are afraid that Bayonne will lose that small town image as the Peninsula reaches its full size.
I think people understand that Bayonne needs to grow in order to survive. Change is difficult. Bayonne is a unique community and it has been able to maintain its unique neighborhood and good civic organizations that do good work in the community. So I’m sure there is some amount of fear of the unknown as this development grows—the most important thing is that we need to fund and plan this project so it grows properly.
How will this massive project in the end make Bayonne a better city?
It’s very important that people understand that this is not set up to be an island, this is Bayonne. The tax base and the tax ratables will grow exponentially. In the future there will be hundreds of more tax payers to pay for the city budget. There will be more jobs created, and there will be additional types of housing available in the community that has never been available, from hi-rise apartment buildings to town houses. There will be new opportunities for new restaurants down on the waterfront plus a ferry that will take people to Manhattan. We will also be adding about 60 acres of open space that people can enjoy. The plan calls for over a million and a half square feet of office space, over 700 hotel rooms, and thousands of sq. feet of retail space. It may take 20 years to finish, or it might be done sooner because of its waterfront location. But this will be something the people of Bayonne can be proud of.
For more information go to http://bayonnelra.com