It was here, in 1946, that professional baseball’s color barrier was broken. Playing his first Minor League game against the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson of the Kansas City Royals made international history on Jersey City’s western shore.
The 19-acre Roosevelt Stadium, named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, opened on April 22, 1937.
In 1950, Sugar Ray Robinson defended his welterweight title there.
Though the stadium hosted concerts by the likes of the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the Eagles, and Kiss, by 1978, it had fallen into disrepair and was considered structurally unsound.
Now, a huge development project is slated to transform the vast area, where the stadium once stood, a locale steeped in history. It was a Native American hunting ground, Dutch settlers considered the spot an “easy” place to cross the Hackensack River, and in the 1920s, it was the site of a historic airfield.
Rescue and Recovery
In 1982, Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann, who is largely responsible for the redevelopment of the waterfront along the Hudson River, took what would become the first steps toward the development of the Hackensack River waterfront. A major challenge was the cleanup of chromium that polluted that portion of the river.
A multi-site reclamation project up and down the river incorporated the efforts of many entities, including Honeywell, the conglomerate that had been accused of dumping chromium in the area. A few years later, the K. Hovnanian Companies of Red Bank constructed Society Hill, a condominium development on 90 acres where the stadium once stood. Droyer’s Point, a gated community in the same area, was built in the mid-2000s.
Although McCann started the process, many credit Mayor Glenn Cunningham with the vision for developing a new Gold Coast along the Hackensack on a site formerly owned by Honeywell, north of Society Hill.
An early resident of Society Hill, Cunningham saw the landscape as rich in history and decay. The Route 440 corridor had long become an eyesore by the time Cunningham had become council president in the late 1980s, something he vowed to change when he became mayor slightly more than a decade later.
Under Cunningham, the city altered its master plan in May 2000, designating the entire corridor for Waterfront Planned Development. The Bayfront I Redevelopment Area is part of a larger vision called the Jersey City Bayside Development Plan, completed under Cunningham in May 2003, setting the stage for redevelopment of the entire corridor.
Although others have followed in his footsteps, Cunningham’s multi-stage plan is on the brink of becoming a reality. The city and Honeywell have teamed up to construct yet another phase in what some see as the most ambitious private-public partnership since the days of Frank Hague.
On the Dock of the Bay
The project, which is in Jersey City’s 1,344-acre Bayside Development Zone, received approval from the city council in 2008 and is slated to offer more than 8,100 residential units and nearly 1 million square feet of office space on a 95-acre site. The effort has been hailed by business and government leaders, as well as environmentalists like Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan. Honeywell, overseen by former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli, cleaned up the chromium contamination.
Construction, which started late last year, is not expected to be completed until 2043.
A number of buildings had to be demolished, including an old bowling alley. Department of Public Works operations were moved to a new site on Linden Avenue to allow for the demolition of DPW and Jersey City Incinerator Authority buildings; the city combined the DPW and JCIA last year.
The project will offer many amenities. Among them retail space, affordable housing, public waterfront access, and 20 acres of open space, including two parks extending from Route 440 to the Hackensack River, as well as the continuation of the Riverwalk in Society Hill.
The project adopts basic components of urban Smart Growth with a circulator bus, a light rail stop, green buffers, and paths for pedestrians and cyclists.
The plan will incorporate renewable energy and materials, a sustainable storm-water management plan, and green roofs and terraces. Retail will be located along a pedestrian way and the transit plaza, creating a European-style shopping street.
The plan will join west side development projects, including recent construction at Droyer’s Point; residences adjacent to the West Side Light Rail stop; and the expansion of the New Jersey City University urban campus, directly across Route 440 from the Bayfront property.
“It is a huge project that will transform that entire section of the city,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who represents that portion of the city. “Over the course of a decade it will result in close to 10,000 residential units and 20,000 new residences since it is not only Bayfront but also the bordering neighborhood.”
About 38 percent of the area is vacant land, 42 percent tax-exempt, with the rest a mix of industrial space.
You Can Get There From Here
The refunding of the state’s Infrastructure Trust Fund will allow the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which stops at West Side Avenue, to connect directly to the Bayfront development, providing direct access to Manhattan via the PATH system. Well-established and expansive mass-transit options and roads will connect residents to the rest of the Tri-State area.
The right-of-way for the old Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks is currently being considered for an expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, a key element in the revival of the area.
“Without light rail service, the site would generate about 4,000 units,” DeGise said. “With the extension, the site will create about 8,100 units. Transportation and infrastructure are interrelated. Wherever the light rail has gone, development has followed.”
This huge tract of big-box stores, car dealerships, and municipal offices, will soon be our new Gold Coast.
We’ve come a long way since the Robinsons—Jackie and Sugar Ray—batted and boxed their way to stardom in Jersey City. —JCM