People came dressed for a ball to the site of the former First National Bank of Jersey City on Aug. 11, passing under the brass ornamental door and across the marble floors of the once-posh lobby and into what once was the broad interior of the bank. Beyond the gate, the old walls had been stripped, exposing wiring from another era and piping. The counters where clerks greeted patrons were long gone, although the decorative marble floor remains.
Gutted except for steel beams, the interior echoed with the sound of the voices of dignitaries from the city, construction unions, hotel officials and others, while workers in hard hats continued their labors elsewhere in the historic building.
Long tables with blue cloth coverings and piles of food greeted the guests as if for a vast party, although some of the servers putting out the fixings also wore hard hats as sunlight from the two-story tall windows along the western wall poured in on the festivities.
The clock above the door that had once ticked out time for the thousands of bank patrons was frozen at 6:45, while nearby plasma screens fixed to steel girders flickered with images of what the building was soon to become, perhaps giving new meaning to the cliché that “Everything old is new again.”
Out of the flood waters of Sandy rises a new hotel
Concord Hospitality Enterprises recently broke ground on the new 258-room hotel. The $90 million project, which received a 30-year tax abatement from the city last month, would renovate and expand the ten-story art deco structure to create a second, larger and more modern Hyatt hotel in Jersey City. The project would also create about 10,000 square feet of commercial space at street level and would provide other amenities such as a rooftop lounge.
Located at 1 Exchange Place, the project is expected to generate 350 construction jobs, 80 full time and 60 part time hotel jobs. Jersey City will get about $1.6 million annually in lieu of taxes.
The 13-story extended stay hotel will feature a rooftop overlook, and upper level “jump lobby,” a lobby similar to the first floor lobby, but near the upper portion of the building.
“We are eager to get started revitalizing this long-neglected site and turning it into an asset that will benefit the resident as well as the business community.” – Mark Laport
This will be the sixth new hotel in Jersey City in recent years, and the second Hyatt.
Mayor Steven Fulop said that Jersey City’s ability to continue to attract the interest of prominent brands such as Hyatt and well-respected developers like Concord Hospitality is testament to the city’s location as a destination, the quality of its work force and the commitment to grow the tax base in order to attract new business.
“Concord Hospitality is taking great care to transform the state’s oldest bank building into a new hotel, which speaks to their thoughtful and respectful approach to the projects they undertaken,” Fulop said.
City officials and guests took turns lining up to sign a steel beam that will become a permanent part of the structure.
“Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Fulop, the City Council and the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, Jersey City has become a very attractive business alternative to Manhattan,” said Mark Laport, president and CEO of Concord Hospitality. “We are eager to get started revitalizing this long-neglected site and turning it into an asset that will benefit the resident as well as the business community.”
Could open as early as December 2015
“Concord Hospitality is one of the lodging industry’s most respected owners and developers, and we are delighted to expand our relationship with them to continue the growth of Hyatt’s selected service brands in North America,” said Anthony Isaac, head of selected strategy and development for Hyatt.
He said Hyatt has been part of the Jersey City community since 2002, and the development of his new hotel shows Jersey City’s growth in business and tourism.
“And as Jersey City continues to grow and thrive economically, we are excited to add to the momentum by introducing the first Hyatt House hotel to the city,” he said.
Among the public officials who attended the event were Freeholders Bill O’Dea and Anthony Romano, Bill La Rosa of Hudson County Cultural Affairs, Council President Rolando Lavaro, and council members Diane Coleman, Joyce Waterman, Michael Yun and Khemraj Ramchal.
Deep roots in Jersey City history
As legend has it, wealthy families that came through Ellis Island deposited their valuables in an assortment of private vaults located in the basement of the building.
The main vault with its huge gate like door was nearly the size of the lobby itself, according to workers who helped prepare the building for renovation.
When it opened its doors in April, 1864, it was known as The First National Bank of Jersey City (FNBJC). It was founded by associates of the Mechanics and Traders Bank and doubled its assets within a year of opening. The cornerstone for a new 10-story building in Exchange Place was laid in 1920.
In 1927, FNBJC became the first national bank in the country to receive permission to operate branches, and was strong enough not only to survive stock market crash of 1929, but to thrive, and grew throughout The Great Depression. In the 1940s, it began a number of innovative programs such as Christmas Clubs aimed at families with moderate incomes. In the 1950s, the bank branched into mutual funds, and later automation, and because of its data procession innovations was significantly ahead of other banks. In 1969 the bank changed its name to First Jersey National Bank, expanding its reach throughout Hudson County and the state, as well as the financial district in New York City. The bank championed the development of the Jersey City waterfront, and established its own administrative offices here as a model for the future.
By the late 1980s, the banking chain became the third largest in the nation for mutual funds, but continued to grow with traditional banking services.
Eventually the banking network was gobbled up by larger banking entities such as National Westminster Banking Corporation, which was later purchased by Fleet Bank, and finally Bank of America in 2004.
O’Dea said the bank apparently operated up until recently, a victim of flooding from Superstorm Sandy.
Mayor Fulop said Jersey City’s waterfront posed serious economic challenges when development first started back in the early 1980s. When the Lefrak family started developing Newport, no one anticipated the current level of development, he said and Fulop believes that a different vision more associated with a service like restaurants and hotels would have been part of the plan had brought on development such as this new hotel. He said Jersey City has become a destination, where people come to shop and spend money, and the growth of hotels is part of that.
“More hotels are planned for the future,” Fulop said. “This is about jobs and economic growth.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.