The groundbreaking was reminiscent of the initial one 20 years ago today (June 4), when the late New York developer Samuel LeFrak put a shovel in the ground to start developing on the Jersey City waterfront.
The Jersey City community of Newport has grown into 600 acres of waterfront land, 3,922 residential units, and over 10,000 residents, all between 18th Street and Sixth Street.
It has a major shopping mall, a variety of office buildings, a private elementary school, and a childcare center as well as high-end restaurants, a yacht club and marina, and several small parks and playgrounds.
At the ceremony before the groundbreaking, Richard LeFrak, chairman and president of the LeFrak Organization, made a "second public promise" to complete the remaining undeveloped land within Newport. The public promise refers to his father building Newport.
"We will build 5,000 more apartments, dozens more shops, a thousand more hotel rooms and a million more square feet of office space," said LeFrak.
He went on to say that the completion will include 11 acres of parks and plazas, and a skating rink.
LeFrak continued, "As you can see, we are not resting on our laurels."
The Lefrak Organization also will celebrate their first groundbreaking with a 20th Anniversary Extravaganza scheduled for Saturday June 3, an all-day celebration including a performance by 1980s pop star Deborah (Debbie) Gibson.
And LeFrak has also unveiled a website (www.newport20.com) to inform the public about the history of Newport, which opens with the words: A Promise Kept.
Last week's groundbreaking saw not only LeFrak, but his sons Jamie and Harrison (who were also at the original groundbreaking), and also dignitaries such as Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Governor Jon Corzine, and U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.New projects for Newport
The groundbreaking on Thursday was for the Newport Westin Jersey City Hotel, to be built on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Sixth Street/Thomas Gangemi Drive.
The 253-foot tall, 429-room hotel will include a conference and banquet center, a 10,000 square foot ballroom; a 5,000 sq. ft restaurant and a pool and fitness center.
Manhattan-based William B. Tabler Architects will be overseeing the construction of the hotel, which started after the groundbreaking with an anticipated completion date of spring 2008. Tabler said after the groundbreaking that the hotel project had been put on the shelf for nearly six years because of a drop off in tourism immediately after 9/11.
Also announced during the ceremony was the ongoing or soon-to-come construction of three new residential towers:
* The Shore Club Condominiums at Newport North Tower located on Newport Parkway, a 28-story tower with 217 condominiums, a seven-story garage with 325 parking spaces, and about 10,000 square feet of retail space. Construction began in May.
* The Aqua located on River Drive, a 31-story, 330 foot tall building that will contain 363 apartments, 15,348 square feet of retail, and 291 parking spaces. There will be 20 studio apartments, 169 one-bedrooms, 161 two-bedrooms, and 13 three-bedrooms. The entire space will be 490,063 square feet. The project will be built by Newport Associates Development Company as part of Newport's commitment to building on the Northeast Quadrant near the Jersey City-Hoboken border. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2008.
* The Ellipse, a 460-foot high tower that will be located adjacent to the 14th Street Pier. No date has been set on when this project will commence construction.
Richard LeFrak was adamant that a 3.5-acre park will be built in the future, as designated in the Newport Master Plan, between 14th and 16th Streets. Criticism has been expressed by various Newport residents at past public meetings over the lack of open green space built within Newport.
He also expressed confidence that an extension of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway will be built from the northern edge of Newport spanning across the Long Slip Canal located on the Jersey City-Hoboken border. The extension is to be built by a joint effort of NJ Transit and the Port Authority.
"I spoke to Governor Corzine, and he assured me that the extension would be built within two years," said LeFrak. 'A Promise Kept'
Representatives from the worlds of politics, business and construction gathered under a tent on a humid Thursday afternoon to hear the LeFrak family not only beam with pride over Newport but to give them kudos.
The ceremony started off with a short film on the history of Newport filled with archival photos and news footage, and sprinkled with interviews with such figures as the late Sam Lefrak, former NJ Gov. Thomas Kean and former Jersey City mayor Gerald McCann.
After the screening, Healy spoke of how about Newport's development became the catalyst for the economic and construction boom that has transformed Jersey City into "Wall Street West" with the state's four tallest buildings.
"The people that really started the tremendous resurgence and renaissance here in our great city of Jersey City were....Mel Simon and Sam LeFrak," said Healy. "They had the vision, the courage, the wisdom and the wherewithal to get it done."
Lautenberg, who was U.S. Senator when he also attended the 1986 groundbreaking, recalled how the late Sam LeFrak's dynamic personality made Newport happen.
"Anybody who knew Sam LeFrak and who had contact with him were never quite sure whether if it was a dream - or simply a boast," said Lautenberg. "Sam came on it like a sledgehammer."
Corzine commended the LeFraks on the financial success of Newport and its impact of the state's economy, particularly their future projects.
"For a fledgling governor, I am most appreciative to hear of the $750 million that will be going into the ground in the years ahead," said Corzine. "That's more jobs, and that's sustained economic growth."
Corzine also referred to a recent independent study conducted by Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy that found that 23 percent of all jobs in Jersey City are located in Newport and 28 percent of all private sector jobs in Jersey City are based in Newport.
The study also found that Jersey City has received over $291 million from property taxes and PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), sales, real estate, hotel use, parking and other entities in Newport since 1986. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org