While owner of Chez Marie Café on East 22nd Street became an instant celebrity because the actor picked her place to purchase coffee last October, the city also won significant world-wide recognition when newspapers and wire services reported on Cruise's role in the Steven Spielberg movie, War of the Worlds, being filmed here.
As people stopped Folger on the street, called her on the telephone to ask about Tom Cruise, even sent her Christmas cards addressed to her as well as the actor, the city also drew attention of real estate people and developers, who suddenly discovered the town as a potential target for investment.
Although Folger felt a little awe at the notoriety, and perhaps a little pride at doing something few other people in Bayonne could brag about, she didn't fully understand the impact of the moment until Wade Plunkett Gay Thompson, real estate agents from Washington D.C. walked through her door.
"They asked me if this was where Tom Cruise had come for espresso," Folger said. "They said they had read about it and had come to see what Bayonne is all about.
Movie stars helped city get discovered
Plunkett and Thompson and have since began to work with Diana Brennan of Caldwell Banker Jablonski, who as a local real estate agent said the impact of having Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg come into Bayonne has been huge.
"Bayonne has been a sleeper," Brennan said, "That's a reference to motion picture that no one thought would be a hit, but then everyone finds out about like the Movie Sideway."
Ben Costanza, president and broker for Century 21 & Providence Real Estate Agency also agreed that the publicity about the movie industry has put Bayonne back on the map.
"When you have people like Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Jim Carie and Robert DiNero coming into Bayonne, people are going to pay attention," he said. "I even had Paris Hilton filming on my block for a few weeks."
Costanza said real estate made a turn around in the late 1990s just at Mayor Joseph Doria came into office.
"This may have been a coincidence, but real estate market changed from when he first came in," he said. "Bayonne got onto the map."
One element to this revitalization has been the opening of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail which runs north to south on the Eastern side of the city.
"People became aware of Bayonne," Costanza said.
Costanza and Brennan said Bayonne's isolated location as a peninsula allowed the city to retain a texture that vanished from most other places.
"Because we're in a peninsula we've kept a lot of what other cities lost," said Costanza. "This was always a quiet town where not much was really happening. The Light Rail got us noticed, and it drew a lot of interest by developers and new prospective residents."
Brennan called Bayonne the "undiscovered tip of the Gold Coast" that suddenly got discovered.
"Because this is a peninsula we were the best kept secret on the Gold Coast, and finally we've been discovered," she said. "A number of different investors from around the state and outside the state are amazed how Bayonne remained in tact. This could be the 1960s and 1970s, where people still proudly display their flags and where we have a number of parades. People here still have civic interests."
A developer's dream?Along with the development of the Light Rail, the city's take over of the former Military Ocean Terminal and plans to develop its 430 acres also attracted attention.
"It is the last bit of undeveloped New York Harbor," she said. "One of our strong points has always been our waterfront which has remained undeveloped for years."
But Brennan said development is also occurring in other pockets where there is an increase in townhouses, and she cited Baker Industries which has three sites of interest including the former Elco Boat Works off Avenue A.
"Bergen Point began to see a lot of new development about a year ago," she said. "There is also interest on the East Side of Bayonne, near Prospect Avenue and Avenue F. In the past, that area was less expensive because it was less desirable to live there. Now with the Light Rail and the proposed redevelopment along 440 that area is becoming the place to live."
Costanza agreed there has been a lot of development but that most people seeking his services want two family homes.
"It's a nice product," he said. "It gives people an opportunity to live in a great neighborhood, send their kids to good schools, and have one apartment they can rent to help pay off their expenses."
But one family homes are still also in vogue, he said, but he also noted an increase in condo sales.
"But the supply is low," he said. "There are never enough. That may be why a lot of developers looking to build them in Bayonne. We have three projects in the making in our office right now."
Costanza also said Bayonne has multiple unit housing offering some people as investment property.
"These kinds of buildings get passed on from generation to generation," he said. "This because this is one of the safest cities in the state and the country."
Brennan called the new development a Renaissance for Bayonne, one that allows the city to maintain its traditional texture, but one that is booming with interest.
"This city has remained sleeping for a long time, but the changes had to come, and they are coming. Now it looks like it happened over night, but it really took a long time. The pieces had to be fit into place first."
Brennan agreed with Costanza in that there is a tremendous development of condominiums, but she also noted that the City's Planning Board is one that is keeping a sharp eye on the impact.
"The Planning board keeps density low and doesn't allow construction of high rises," she said.
Costanza agreed that the city may see a few taller buildings, but that the current city administration appears to be keeping close watch on that.
"If I was mayor I might be putting up high rises along Broadway," Costanza said. "But this administration seems to be very sensitive to the neighborhood. When a project needs approval, you can be sure the Planning Board will be looking very closely at the rules. You can't do everything you want. This may not be good for someone in real estate like me, but I think it will be a good thing for Bayonne. This city isn't going to change the way Hoboken did."
In predicting the future, Costanza said Bayonne will need a little more housing. Some of this will be accommodated by converting old buildings, upgrading existing apartments and such.
"But it's not going to change too much," he said. "You'll still recognize Bayonne as Bayonne. There won't be any drastic changes."
Brennan said there will likely be an up scaling of units, installation of fire places, new appliances, adding of terraces.
"The trend for home ownership will continue as long as mortgage rates stay as low as they are," she said. "Financing is easy, and since many of the people who owned the banks here grew up here, the tend to be more willing to invest in the town.
"I believe we have a bright future," she said.
This new notoriety and easy purchasing power is not without its downside
"Homes will be little more costly, so it may be more difficult for our young people to stay in town," he said. "I'm hoping this is something developers might be able to address."
Costanza said the low interest rates will also have a negative impact on rental units.
"With no interest in some cases, people will want to buy not rent," he said.
Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com