by Bridget Whitfield, Class of 2016 —
It is the city closest to the Big Apple and a center of mass public transportation. With the PATH and bus terminal within walking distance, it’s the perfect place for the urban working community. Journal Square could possibly be a real estate jackpot, and developers are placing their bets.
After years of neglect, Journal Square finally has the attention of developers, with “Journal Squared”, a three glass tower residential development plan that could cost an estimated $400 million dollars. The buildings were set to begin construction in December, but the weather caused a halt in construction.
Jeff Persky, the Executive Vice President of Kushner Real Estate Group (KRE), added, “We started construction on Phase One in December and the weather forced us to stop”, he said. “Construction will restart on May 15th.”
According to the agreement between KRE, Journal Square Associates, and Jersey City on panyny.gov, “KRE owns, or is under contract to acquire, several properties adjacent to JSTC and has secured site plan approval to construct three mixed-use buildings that could add a total of approximately two million square feet of residential and commercial space to the Journal Square area in Jersey City.”
Persky also said there are more developments that are being planned for Journal Square.
“I know of a 42-story residential tower on Summit Avenue and a twenty story tower on JFK.”
Once considered the “heart” of Jersey City, Journal Square was a very popular and thriving place. When it was first established in the 1920s, the appeal of the public transportation was huge and many people thought Journal Square would one day be equivalent to Times Square in New York City.
Iris Jones, a current resident in Jersey City, reminisces on Journal Square in its glory days.
“I remember when Journal Square was a destination”, she said. “We went on dates there. We window shopped on Saturday afternoons there. We went to movies there and had milkshakes in the drugstore. We bought prom dresses and Easter outfits, I even took dancing lessons there. I could go on and on.”
But Journal Square’s most recent history isn’t as storied. According to areavibes.com, a website that gives current information on cities and neighborhoods, 20.9% of Journal Square residents are living at poverty level and the crime rate is 32% higher than any other place in Jersey City. The area has become run down and outdated and needs some major fixing up.
Janea Johnson, a Jersey City resident and student at Saint Peter’s University, agrees with cleaning up the Journal Square neighborhoods.
“I believe it’s a good thing”, she said. “It’s about time Journal Square is being noticed and is finally being fixed up.”
This area seems to have been passed up by many development projects, while it’s the one in desperate need of renovation. Both Grove Street and Hoboken have had major development and are now some of the most popular towns in New Jersey. Persky discussed Journal Squares exclusion in major development plans.
“Urban development generally moves along mass transit”, he said. “As the transit stops closer to New York we developed and land became more expensive and scarce, developers will now look to next the transit stop.” It makes sense for Journal Square to be the next stop for major development with easy access to PATH train and buses to New York and Newark.
Johnson agrees. “I believe it’s a good thing we’re developing and these new things will draw attention”, she said. “It’s a place to go and enjoy your time and money. Not many people know how much Journal Square has and has to offer the community.”
In the past, there have been many projects for buildings that were supposed to be built, but just never happened. Construction fees are very high and many companies couldn’t afford to finish their projects, but now that all changes.
KRE received a 20-year- tax abatement for the three glass towers to be built in the center of Journal Square close to the PATH station. Tax abatements, according to nyc.gov, are when the owners of cooperative units and condominiums have their property taxes reduced. However, the amount of abatement depends on the assessed value of the residential units in the building.
Tax abatements give time to pay off the high construction costs that developing the Journal Square area will require, and now projects can be finished. Jones does have some opposition to the tax abatements because she is concerned that small businesses and low income families may get run out of the area.
“My only concern is that the current residents not be out priced and overtaxed”, she said. “Any tax abatements should be shared with the residents proportionately to what is given away so that the ‘little guy’ does not get taxed out of town.”
Donal Malone, a professor at nearby Saint Peter’s University, is also concerned with middle income residents being driven out of their neighborhoods. “There are no affordable or mixed income units being built in the new towers coming to Journal Square. These are luxury or market rate rental units”, he said. “Many residents have fears that kind of luxury housing development will drive up the cost of housing an end up pushing out many residents. This might include homeowners who are fearful of increased real estate taxes on their homes.”
However, what could result from higher end luxury facilities is gentrification. Persky adds that many people are generally ready for a change and there are some benefits that gentrification can bring.
“Generally there’s more excitement than opposition”, he said. “People are generally concerned about change but the opposite is also true that all property values rise and irrespective of a person’s economic status.”
“I believe everyone is looking forward to the revitalized energy and vibrancy these projects will bring i.e. retail stores, restaurants, renovations of the Loews theatre, etc.”
However, Malone says gentrification shouldn’t have to occur because of development. “I believe that neighborhoods can be revitalized without displacing longtime resident who are usually working and lower middle class, he said. “That means that the government must have policies to help ensure that.”
“To me, gentrification is just a reflection of the free market under capitalism but our society also has social needs and that is why it is the government’s role to protect the common or public good”, he said. “Gentrification is an indication of an imbalance between economic interests and the public interest.”
With development and renovation done to Journal Square, could it be one of the most desirable places in Jersey City? Minutes from the PATH train, bus station, and with beautiful new residential buildings with the best views of the city, why not? According to Jones, it still wouldn’t be the best place in Jersey City to be.
“I don’t know if Journal Square will be the most popular living place in Jersey City for families”, she said. “It lacks green space and park area, which are important for young families. Every development needs balance.”
Persky, however, has a more optimistic view. “I believe it has the potential because of the existing infrastructure to be more desirable.”
With higher quality living and better facilities, this could be a future paradise for middle-working class urban family. “I feel that any improvement to the general appearance and atmosphere is wonderful”, Jones said. “It would be pretty nifty for Journal Square to be cool again.”