The Journal Square Transportation Center in Jersey City — Courtesy: Grid Real Estate LLC
By Joshua Burd
For a city that has billions of dollars of construction taking place — in more than one neighborhood — Jersey City is still in the earliest stages of its renaissance story.
Mayor Steve Fulop is even prepared to see that momentum continue in leaner times.
“I know you hear it from a lot of people, but I like to think that we’ve approached it with a very deliberate plan on what we’re going to do in the toughest situations and what we’re going to do in the easiest situations,” Fulop said Thursday, speaking to hundreds of attendees at the Jersey City Summit for Real Estate Investment. He pointed, for instance, to his push nearly a decade ago to scale back tax abatements for projects in the popular downtown and waterfront districts, while using stronger incentives to steer developers to other neighborhoods.
“So we changed that dynamic,” he continued. “I was very, very deliberate on why we did that. As the economy turns, I would venture to say that we’re going to explore that again if we see development slowing down.”
Fulop spoke during an on-stage interview with Philip McGovern, the conference chair and managing partner of Connell Foley’s Jersey City office, in a program that highlighted what’s still to come in the municipality’s long-running construction boom. City hall will remain nimble in how it guides development in the face of potential economic headwinds, he said, while staying focused on burgeoning areas such as Journal Square, the West Side and Bergen-Lafayette.
“What we’re trying to do is really attract all of you to think about other parts of Jersey City besides here, and it’s working out,” Fulop said during the event at Newport Tower, an office building in the city’s acclaimed Newport section. “And at the same time the balance is to try to figure out how to keep the residents that have been here, with homes here, to stay here.
“That’s why we implemented an inclusionary zoning ordinance last year. It’s working — we’re going to fine tune it with a little bit of enhancement, I think, in the next two months — but (we’re) really trying to capitalize on the things that have made the city special, but at the same time recognizing that a city that’s growing is ultimately a healthy city.
“That’s what you want and that’s the only way that we can keep our budgets balanced — by attracting new people to be here. And that’s really been the cornerstone of what we’ve tried to do here over the last 10 years.”
The full-day summit, which was held in-person for the first time since 2019, attracted nearly 1,000 attendees to the 1.1 million-square-foot tower at 525 Washington Blvd. It was a sign of the city’s strength and continued interest from the commercial real estate sector, even as panelists grappled with rising interest rates and construction costs, a choppy office market and the prospect of a recession.
Even so, speakers noted that apartment rents along the Gold Coast are rising and that new projects continue to fill its construction pipeline. That’s especially so in Jersey City’s historic Journal Square neighborhood, which Fulop noted was the first leg of a plan to spur investment away from the downtown, following decades of unmet potential.
“You’d be hard pressed to find another city in the country that, in that small area, has that much change happening,” he said, echoing comments from last week’s groundbreaking for Kushner’s 1,723-unit One Journal Square project. He noted that the neighborhood will soon have three 60-story buildings under construction within a two-block radius, where residents and workers will also see cranes for multiple 30-story towers.
The projects have gone hand in hand with what Fulop described as a sizable investment of the city’s own capital in the city’s less-established neighborhoods. That includes close to $200 million in Journal Square to restore the iconic Loew’s Jersey Theater and to attract the only North American location for the renowned Parisian art museum, Centre Pompidou, along with a new municipal complex on the city’s south side.
The third-term mayor also cited infrastructure investments such as the state’s largest bike share system, an intra-city shuttle service and plans to acquire the Port Liberte Ferry Terminal, along with ongoing expenditures for new parks and open space.
“The thought was that, even if you all get a little skittish and you see that the environment is changing, there’s enough force from the city’s dollars that we will be able to keep some of that momentum going,” he said to a crowd that included developers, investors and service professionals. “And I think it’s going to bear out over the next year.”
One thing is clear: The volume of construction that is currently underway in the city has the potential to be transformative on its own, regardless of what comes after. That includes projects such as the sweeping, $300 million expansion of the Liberty Science Center that will create a new business incubator, a high school and 400 apartments as part of what’s known as Scitech Scity.
“So when you think about where Jersey City is headed, it’s hard to argue that we’re in a mature stage of this renaissance story just because the biggest things that we have going on right now haven’t matured yet,” Fulop said. “They’re still under development within two or three years. I think they’re going to mostly be completed by the end of this term for me, but it’s still very, very early in that story.”