One of the modern concepts for urban shopping districts is not to try and compete with highway shopping malls by trying to draw customers in from remote areas. With vast parking lots and easy access, highway shopping malls have a big advantage.
But aging shopping districts such as Broadway in Bayonne have something malls do not have – they have a built-in customer base. According to Consultant Bob Benecke, who spoke before the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 11, Bayonne needs to build that base, and he recommended a concept similar to one that is known as a “Transit Village.”
By redeveloping the upper floors of buildings along the shopping district and providing residential housing above the store fronts, the city can create its own population of shoppers who will generate business within the shopping district.
“The City of Bayonne is moving forward with advocating the rehabilitation of the gateway entrance to Bayonne from Exit 14A of the New Jersey Turnpike.” – Bob Benecke
While local merchants along Broadway have expressed concern about the arrival of the Bayonne Crossing mall on Route 440 and perceive it as competition, he said both areas can co-exist to the benefit of the city if the core areas of the city are redeveloped to make best use of existing property.
Bayonne must act soon
In laying out some strategies for rebuilding Broadway businesses, Benecke seemed to draw on concepts introduced in the 1990s for areas that have significant public transportation elements, where residential units are constructed within walking distance of existing transit stations, with businesses on the ground floor that provide services to them and those coming and going via transit.
But in his presentation, Benecke said Bayonne has the ability to draw visitors and outside shoppers, especially with the Turnpike exit at one of its chief gateway sections in the city.
In his presentation, he said New Jersey continued to face challenges.
“Stagnation is the norm and economic growth is slow at best,” he said. “Some private sector jobs have been added in the past year or so, but we have a long way to go before we experience accelerated growth.”
Bayonne is below the state average for home ownership and household income, and has a higher rate of poverty than average for the state. It has a significant number of retail businesses – more than 4,000 – but it lacks economic clusters that are generating growth in other nearby cities.
Town Center has been successful in keeping store vacancy rates under 10 percent, a significant accomplishment considering the challenges posed by the opening of Bayonne Crossing mall.
“This vacancy rate is at the national average,” he said.
Most of Hudson County is in a similar plight with the exception of Jersey City and Hoboken – which he seemed to think Bayonne should model its own redevelopment after.
“The City of Bayonne is moving forward with advocating the rehabilitation of the gateway entrance to Bayonne from Exit 14A of the New Jersey Turnpike,” he said. “The city is also working with the Bayonne Town Center Management Corporation in redeveloping the empty lots.”
But he said the city must begin soon to revitalize these areas, using tools such as eminent domain to help propel this growth.
He said Bayonne is several decades behind Jersey City and Hoboken, who took advantage of changes in redevelopment laws in the early 1980s and are currently two of the strongest areas in the county now.
Building above the stores could bring into Bayonne as many as 5,000 new residents.
Mary Divock, executive director of Town Center, said office space that had existed above stores near Broadway and 25th Street were recently converted to residential and were rented quickly to young professionals, suggesting that there is an interest in this kind of redevelopment.
An ambitious agenda
Chamber President Vincent Virga meanwhile outlined the proposed goals for the organization, which includes working with the Bayonne Community News and Town Center to establish the “Bayonne’s Best Pizza” competition, which would help draw people into Bayonne the way similar competitions have helped other towns elsewhere.
He said the chamber’s successful meet and greets and charity partnerships will be continued in the future, as well as the chamber making moves towards increasing their participation in the community as a way to increase its membership.
He said the goal was to increase its membership to more than 300 over the next three years. The chamber currently has more than 90 businesses and has an annual revenue of about $42,000.
“We need to retain and attract new members,” he said. “We have to improve the public awareness of our organization, and take a leadership role in town in economic development.”
He said the stronger the chamber is, the better position it will be in to promote and maintain Broadway.
Virga also said the chamber is looking to partner with the Bayonne School District to create a Young Entrepreneur Academy that would educate students on what it is like to start and operate a business.
He also proposed seminars in the future that would bring in a host of professionals that would educate existing business owners about the basics of starting and maintaining a small business, covering the fundamentals of business management such as cash flow and the need for developing a business plan.
“Many businesses do not have a business plan,” he said. “So they don’t know if they will even exist in a few years.”