During a groundbreaking ceremony last week for a 22-story apartment tower across the street from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the building would "turn this area completely around." Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean called the project, "a building block to bring back the greatest city in the state."
NJPAC is now in its 20th season, and eight years have passed since a Philadelphia firm was named to develop the One Theater Square site. So, why did such a critical project lay dormant for so long, even as other hi-rise apartments sprouted one after another in Jersey City, only a few miles east?
But Jersey City had something to offer during the post-recession years that Newark did not, said Kevin Riordan, executive director of the Center for Real Estate at the Rutgers Business School in Newark. Along with its easy commute to Manhattan via PATH train, New York Waterway ferries, and the Holland Tunnel, one of the main factors driving Jersey City's latest residential building boom, said Riordan, has been its strong job growth.
In a new urban era when people want to live near where they work, the demand for housing in Jersey City was met first by its existing housing stock, then by newly built high-rise apartments.
"Jobs, and in particular well-paying jobs, were clustered around Jersey City," Riordan said. "Jersey City and Hoboken always had attractive brownstones. The next level of development was to create vertical, or high-rise."
As the Hudson waterfront built out, forcing up land values, construction costs and rents, development began to spread west, particularly to areas with PATH access, including Jersey City's Journal Square neighborhood, Harrison, and finally Newark.
"(The) cost of creating those high rises and the cost of living in those high rises has gone up, so development has been pushed out west," Riordan said.