Getting back to business
Hudson County stores, residents rebuild post-Sandy
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Mar 10, 2013 | 5503 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GEARING UP FOR PEAK SEASON – Grove Street Bicycles in Jersey City, which experienced flooding from Hurricane Sandy and destruction to their main business area in the basement, is gearing up for their peak season.
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Despite the swath of destruction that Hurricane Sandy left in Hudson County last fall, most local businesses have reopened, and the real estate market has actually seen some positive trends due to the storm. Municipalities are proposing improvements and upgrades to help mitigate future flooding, and hoping to draw customers to their business districts.

Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) proposed in February to invest $3.9 billion during the next 10 years to proactively protect and strengthen its electric and gas systems against power outages during storms.

Busy real estate market

With lengthy power outages and the temporary absence of regular PATH train service in and out of Jersey City and Hoboken, residents and business owners were anxious to see business and daily living get back to normal.

In Sandy’s aftermath, more than 97 percent of Hoboken’s businesses had reopened by December. Local businesses suffered anywhere from one week to four weeks of lost revenue. Some feared that the lure of Hoboken and its neighborhoods along the waterfront would suffer and that the real estate market would see a hit from folks who were either anxious to leave due to flooding or reluctant to buy. However, in some cases, the opposite happened.

Local entrepreneur and mother of three Kathy Zucker blogged on her website that Hoboken still apparently holds great allure for home buyers, as she had seen recent bidding wars over local homes. There was also a reduction in supply as some homeowners repaired their properties, making for increased demand for those that were still on the market.
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“This town has always been able to bounce back from every kind of negative idea or perception.” Hoboken Realtor Mark Bogdanos
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Zucker said that natural disasters can happen anywhere, and said this about one woman who chose to buy in Hoboken recently, “Her new condo was not damaged by the hurricane, although the first floor common areas flooded. She does not think storms of the magnitude of Sandy are likely to happen frequently.”

Mark Bogdanos of Corporate Realty said the fear factor will pass. His family has been in the real estate business for 37 years.

“If it isn’t one thing, it is something else,” he said. “Six months from today…it will be a memory.”

For Bogdanos, who has been here for over 25 years, he has seen Hoboken rebound from both negative perceptions about certain neighborhoods and a tough economy.

“This town has always been able to bounce back from every kind of negative idea or perception,” said Bogdanos. “It is the nature of Hoboken.”

He added that when the markets hit an economic downturn, “we are affected last and we rebound first.”

Hoboken’s vibrant main street with shops and boutiques is one of the factors that helps draw people in according to Bogdanos.

After the storm, “Properties are slowly coming back to the market,” he said.

Making up for lost time

Many business owners who lost revenue from closures due to Sandy were anxious to make up for lost time.

For Rodney Morweiser, owner of Grove Street Bicycles in Jersey City, “not having enough time in the day,” has been one the greatest challenges in the recovery effort.

They are working to get back to 100 percent in time for the spring and summer seasons. Still, they only closed for a few days after the storm.

The business suffered approximately three feet of sewage back up in the basement, which is one of the shop’s main areas where bicycles are repaired.

The basement also houses the company server and many files, which were all damaged. Since Grove Street Bicycles was not in a flood zone, Morweiser said they did not expect to get as much flooding as they did.

“We got hit pretty hard with the storm,” said Morweiser. “We lost close to $100,000 in product and equipment.”

Morweiser said that the company is 90 percent back. Most of the work that remains is in the basement area.

“We are pretty close,” said Morweiser about their progress. “We have been using the space but working around [the area that needs clean-up].” He added that they are working to get the basement area to a cleaner and more usable state.

The company started rebuilding on their own following the storm.

“A lot of insurance companies are not easy to work with,” noted Morweiser. “It took a long time to get answers back from insurance.”

He said, however, that the company has been, “busier than average,” during its off-season because people had bikes that were caught in the rain or exposed to the flooding.

Choosing to rebuild

The Pointe Restaurant in Port Liberte in Jersey City, which was nearly demolished during Sandy, has not reopened. But owner John Nicaretta says he is not giving up on getting back to business.

“Dealing with the insurance and the lawyers is taking a lot longer than we thought,” said Nicaretta. He said they have been caught in a lot of back and forth.

According to Nicaretta, the restaurant had all floor-to-ceiling windows blown out, which covered 50 percent of the walls. The bar was moved by the water, the walls, kitchen, air conditioning and heating were all damaged. The outdoor patio was demolished.

“It was like a bomb went off,” said Nicaretta. “The damage was pretty extensive.”

Nicaretta said that he is waiting to see what the outcome will be with the insurance company regarding coverage for the losses, to determine whether they rebuild the restaurant as it was in its previous state or whether they make changes to the site.

“It is frustrating…it is very frustrating,” noted Nicaretta.

Nicaretta is anxious to move forward.

“This would have been 11 years,” said Nicaretta. The restaurant opened in February 2002.

“It is a beautiful location on the water… it is not something my partners and I want to give up on. We want to put it back. It is a special place.”

He added, “it is what I love…it is what I do…it is my career.”

Meanwhile, in Hoboken, the uptown ShopRite supermarket reopened in February. And a bar/restaurant, Clinton Social, reopened last weekend after months of cleanup.

Residential recovery

Neighborhoods along the waterfront, whether on the Hudson or the Hackensack River, experienced severe flooding, in some cases twice that caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Weehawken’s small downtown neighborhood known as The Shades, a nickname derived from the close-knit neighborhood’s location beneath the cliffs of the Palisades, experienced severe flood damage. As Weehawken’s topographical low point, Hurricane Sandy hit it hardest.

Signs of progress included the reopening of St. Lawrence Church in time for Christmas mass, which was involved in a major clean-up effort. The church, Weehawken’s primary Catholic parish, had suffered damage to the pews, altar, walls, and floors. It had to be gutted and cleaned and is still in the recovery stage.

Most residents who were displaced from Sandy expected to be back in their homes by the end of January. The hardest part for some residents has been managing their own insurance claims. The township has set up a hotline for residents to call and receive assistance.

Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner estimated that Weehawken incurred about $2.5 million in public damage. Nearly all those costs will be paid out of the township’s pocket until it is reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, Turner has said FEMA reimbursement might not come for many months.

Municipalities assess damage

“Superstorm Sandy wasn’t just devastating for our businesses and residents – it also caused more than $10 million in damage to city property,” said Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer during her State of the City address in February. “The cost of this storm is enormous, and obviously we are trying to get as much of the damage covered as possible by the federal government. However, even with coverage by FEMA, we will still be responsible for 25 percent of the total cost.”

The city has filed extensive insurance claims with the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) but has yet to receive any money back.

Zimmer went on WNYC-FM in February to discuss an aggressive approach to flood prevention, which involves building walls to protect the city – a suggestion that came under criticism by one environmental group.

Zimmer is quoted on WNYC-FM as saying, “There is some criticism, like how can you put up walls around the city? But the reality is, you know, I'd rather have walls around the city to protect it than to have a city that's destroyed.”

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said in his State of the City in February that the costs associated with Sandy could easily approach $100 million. In his speech he outlined the extent of damage caused by Sandy across the city. More than 6,100 residential housing units throughout the city sustained moderate to severe damages due to storm-related flooding. The hardest hit areas included Country Village, Society Hill, and the Port Liberte housing complexes, as well as most of Downtown and the Hudson River waterfront.

“While Hurricane Sandy brought much destruction, there was something positive that came out of the disaster,” said Healy. “Seeing so many neighbors stepping up to help other neighbors during trying times. It is a testament to our city and the people who live here.”

Secaucus seeks over $3 million in FEMA funding to cover the immediate costs of Hurricane Sandy-related emergency response and repair in addition to long-term projects to reduce the risks from future disasters. The tidal surge from Hurricane Sandy caused significant flooding throughout the town, damaging close to 300 homes as well as municipal parks and pump stations.

FEMA funds

A number of Hudson County municipalities have asked Washington for 90 to 100 percent coverage instead of 75 percent.

Congress enacted a total of $60.2 billion in response to Hurricane Sandy to help people in affected communities repair houses, businesses, and communities as well as rebuild and strengthen coastal, transportation, and clean water infrastructure. This is the second largest federal disaster aid package in history, only behind aid for Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in February called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make additional resources available to New Jersey homeowners who are in the process of rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy and have found their homes subject to new elevation requirements under the the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) interim floodplain maps according to a press statement issued in February.

PSE&G’s 10-year plan

Many people throughout Hudson County were left in the dark from power outages during Hurricane Sandy. The number of days without power varied across the county, but in worst case some were left without power or heat for two weeks.

Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) in February proposed to invest $3.9 billion during the next 10 years to proactively protect and strengthen its electric and gas systems against increasingly frequent severe weather conditions, according to a press statement.

During Sandy, two million of PSE&G’s 2.2 million electric customers lost power due to damaged switching and substations, damaged poles and electrical equipment, and fallen trees that brought down wires. With the protections outlined in the filing in place, about 800,000 of those affected by a storm like Sandy would have remained with power and restoration and times for the rest would be reduced.

PSE&G includes $1.7 billion to raise, relocate or protect all switching and substations among the key provisions. The list of substations and switching stations to be fortified include ones located in Bayonne, Hoboken, North Bergen, and Jersey City.

According to PSE&G representative Rena Esposito, the company replaced over 38,000 meters of cable throughout Hudson County following Sandy.

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at afernandez@hudsonreporter.com.

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