Close-Up on the Jersey City Waterfront


Portions of this article have been updated.

On a mild, bright November day, sea-foam green and granite-topped tables glitter along the public promenade outside Newport Centre Mall. These tables—within a block of a commuter trains, three hotels, an office tower, a new residential complex, and a panoramic-postcard view of Lower Manhattan—might be a convenient rest stop. But they are empty. As are the sidewalks.

Inside the massive new office towers are worker bees in the community that isn’t. One tower, Harborside Financial Center, houses law firms, design agencies, and financial institutions in offices stacked above restaurants, beauty salons, drug stores, and delis. It is connected to a parking garage and the Exchange Place PATH train station, and lies across the street from a light rail. Tenants could—and probably do—stay all day in the glass-enclosed complex.

Are these Jetsons-style stacks of isolated buildings really the Jersey City financial district’s “cusp of renewal”—or is this an odd district plopped down on the edge of a depressed, lower/middle-class, semi-suburban Jersey City? In a critique of new construction in the area, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger stung the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation by calling its waterfront collage of residential buildings, office towers, and mega-stores a “dreary assemblage.” He was right on.

“It’s not a neighborhood, really,” said a Lehman Bros. employee who lives in South Jersey and whose office moved from Lower Manhattan after Sept. 11. “We just work here and go home.”

Boundaries: Although Jersey City extends several miles inland, the waterfront neighborhood spreads only three blocks west from the Hudson river. North-south, the district is almost a mile long and stretches from the transit hub known as Pavonia and south to Exchange Place.

Main Drags: Washington Street runs parallel to the river, from Exchange Place north to Pavonia.

Population: Jersey City has a population of 240,055 as of the 2000 census, but the waterfront’s new rental towers are far from capacity. Population density is 15,369 persons per square mile, compared to Manhattan’s 23,320, or the country as a whole at 662. A sure sign of the FIRE (financial, insurance, real estate) industries’ boom is the labor base in Jersey City: 253,900—over 10,000 more than the total city population.

Transportation: If all of Jersey City’s mass transportation lines met at one exchange, it would rival New York City’s Penn Station. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail reaches north and south into New Jersey. The PATH train is accessible from Grove Street. Exchange Place and Pavonia/Newport go to Hoboken or Manhattan and reach south to the World Trade Center (a 10 minute ride) and north to Herald Square (30 minutes). Ferries launch from five or more docks in Manhattan at intervals as short as 10 minutes. Buses take the Holland Tunnel, and the NJ Transit train system is good for longer trips.

Average Price to Rent: Waterfront studio, $1,200 to $1,500; waterfront one-bedroom, $1,700 to $2,000; waterfront two-bedroom, $2,400 to 2,600; waterfront three-bedroom, $3,000. One-to-two train stops further into Jersey City, rental prices can be halved.

Average Price to Buy: Five-year-old or newer waterfront condos, $550/sq. foot.

Green Space: Saplings dot the roadsides, and occasional clusters of picnic tables can be found. Clean corporate courtyards provide temporary refuge for workers, but not necessarily for visitors.

Parks: Liberty State Park’s northern tip is a short walk south of Exchange Place. But to reach the park proper is a longer schlep. Hamilton Park is an easy walk west from the Pavonia-Newport PATH station and is equipped with hoops, tennis courts, and a little more space to play.

Development: Some hail the financial district as a beacon of successful mixed-use urban planning. Goldman Sachs bought the last three parcels in the Colgate construction plan in 2000, budgeting $450 million for construction projects that now include an atrium that mimics the World Financial Center’s and a glitzy 820-foot tall tower designed by Cesar Pelli, which is now New Jersey’s tallest structure. Datek Online relocated 1,400 of its employees in 2001 to its neighbor at 70 Hudson, a 32-story neoclassical skyscraper with 1.1 million square feet of office space. Much of it is still vacant, but construction continues.

Shops: Newport Centre Mall leases space to every predictable chain. JC Penney and Sears are its biggest tenants.

Restaurants/Bars: The scene is part post-frat-boy yuppie, part Wall Street, and part family restaurant. Some of the hotel dining has a splash of faux SoHo haughtiness (surrounding streets are aptly named Greene, Essex and Hudson). Café Newport (500 Washington Blvd) is one to try. Snag a window (or outdoor) table at dusk and order the sea bass while you watch boats bob in the harbor.

Crime Stats: According to the New Jersey Police, Jersey City had 24 murders in 2003, an increase from 21 in 2002; 59 rapes, down from 86; but more than 1,400 total robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, and vehicle thefts. But have no fear, office laborers: The waterfront is reputedly far safer than downtown and the J.C. heights.

Elected Officials: Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy; U.S. senators Jon S. Corzine and Frank R. Lautenberg; U.S. representative Robert Mendez; State Senator Joseph V. Doria; state assemblymen Anthony Chiappone and Louis Manzo. All are Democrats.