The cars, complete with stunt drivers, were rehearsing upcoming scenes from a new Matt Damon movie, while the trucks were coming and going from development sites.
Both were obvious signs of progress, since both symbolized the range of economic activity going on in one of Bayonne's biggest non-residential areas that is slated for redevelopment.
The MOTBY (now called the "Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor") is possibly the largest redevelopment project on the East Coast, if not the nation, and has become a model for the development of closed military bases throughout the nation.
The U.S. Congress closed the Naval and Army base in 1996 and deeded the land to the city of Bayonne in 2001 for redevelopment. The city is currently seeking developers to build in six distinct districts: Harbor Station, Bayonne Bay, the Landing, the Loft District, Bayonne Point, and the Maritime Industrial District. There could be as many as 6,700 housing units, as well as office, retail, civic, and hotel space.
This is not the only project the BLRA is overseeing, although it is the largest. Kist said the BLRA has also been charged with overseeing the more than 70-acre Texaco property development, which could also see significant progress this year. Public comment on a redevelopment plan from earlier this year is being compiled.
Movies 'Bourne' on the site
Studio space on the MOTBY is currently being used for production of the Bourne Supremacy, one of a series of blockbuster movies starring Damon. On this day in early March, the movie company had asked permission to test the cars that they will later use for an action sequence.
Although the local studio has seen several blockbuster movies over the last few years, the real news isn't Matt Damon or the studio, but the fact that two or maybe three residential development projects are slated to break ground this year at the military base, the final visible steps in development that Kist calls "going vertical."
"Most of the work we've done out here so far has been infrastructure," Kist said. "We've knocked down buildings, shored up bulk head, and installed sewers, but now we're ready to go vertical, and people will see us building something down here."
She said in some ways what the BLRA has been doing is planting seeds, and with agreements already forged with several developers, the public should see the fruit of those plantings within a few months.
Four of the six development districts at the terminal could see construction or advancement in plans this year.
"Once it starts, it will seem like it's all happening at once," Kist said, "although in truth, it has taken us years of painstaking work to get us here."
Fidelio Realty is slated to begin construction of more than 400 residential units in an area called Harbor Station North, the section closest to Route 440. But close behind Fidelio is Trammel Crow, which is expected to get its preliminary and perhaps final approvals for the construction of luxury rental units on a portion of the Bayonne Bay District.
Two more sections, The Landing and the Loft, could see the designation of developers this year, in what seem giant steps for towards the ultimate development of the base.
The pace of these has even surprised Kist, who had not anticipated making so much progress so early.
"We thought this would be more evenly paced over a longer period of time," she said. "But we got so many quality responses to our request for proposals on Bayonne Bay that we decided to run with them and we did."
Face of new development
The MOTBY has become a model for the development of closed military bases throughout the nation.
In some ways, it has become the face of a new Bayonne as a city of redevelopment rather than industry.
With a clean bill of health from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year, MOTBY is expected to make great strides towards "going vertical" and with pieces of the base going onto the city tax rolls before the end of the year, adding $7.2 million in new tax ratables to the city's coffers.
"Harbor Station North could be on the tax rolls by July if everything goes well," Kist said.
Currently, nearly all of the 430-acre site is exempt from property taxes. As construction moves ahead, the city will reassess the land to reflect current value so that taxes to the city will increase proportionately to what has been constructed there. Kist said each development project will go on the tax rolls as soon as construction starts, bringing in additional revenue to the city that didn't exist before.
Although to most people outside the actual work at the base, progress seemed slow, Kist said much had to be done to prepare the former base for development, such as stabilizing the shoreline and installing basic services like electricity, water, sewers and such.
A walk through the base shows roads already being sculpted out of a landscape that had once been a ghost town of military barracks and other buildings.
Kist said Sen. Robert Menendez, when still a member of the House of Representatives, managed to help steer a significant number of federal grants to help pay for a lot of the work.
For Councilman Vincent Lo Re, who also serves as a commissioner on the BLRA, the MOTBY represents a bright future for the city of Bayonne, which had lost industry and jobs over the last few decades.
"We are seeing the birth of a new Bayonne," he said. "And it is our job as council members and commissioners of the BLRA to guide the city through the changes so that everybody benefits - those living in Bayonne now, and those that will come later when the MOTBY is complete."
One of the success stories of the MOTBY has been the operation of the Royal Caribbean Cruise line, which has seen more 300,000 passengers last year, and will begin year round operations when the first ship arrives at Port Liberty in April. Upgrades are expected to be done this year on the terminal building, although Kist said Royal Caribbean may not replace the existing building until 2010 or 2011.
Expanding the existing berth is already underway, with the hopes of opening a second berth in the near future, doubling the capacity for handling ships here.
Texaco and Standard Oil sites are also on the list
The Texaco site will also see significant progress this year. The former terminal and storage facility for Texaco Oil ceased operations in the 1980s. A revised redevelopment plan could see a presentation before the city's Planning Board by September.
The Texaco property, Kist said, has some advantages over the MOTBY in that many of the basic services such as sewer, water, and electric already exist on its fringe. So the site will not require the same amount of infrastructure improvements that has delayed development of MOTBY.
The BLRA is also overseeing the redevelopment of a much smaller industrial property known as Standard Tank, and waiting on clearance from environmental authorities to seek a developer. The site is zoned for light industrial, and its most attractive feature is its dock, which opens onto the Kill Van Kull.