Interview with the Mayor: Jersey City’s Steven Fulop

Mayor Fulop, photo by Matt Rainey

What do you think of the Port Authority’s capital plans and is the PATH extension to Newark Liberty International Airport worthwhile in light of crowding on the existing line?

I think the Port Authority runs a shitty service, and generally speaking, it’s a dysfunctional entity. The single-seat ride connecting Jersey City to Newark Liberty is important, and it will make Jersey City one of the few cities in this country with a single-seat ride, and that would be money well-spent. It’s in the capital plan right now, I don’t think it’s funded yet, but it’s important that it does get funded, and it’s important that we expand the number of cars in each train as well.

On that note, what about the aborted effort to link the 6 train to the PATH under the World Trade Center — was that a missed opportunity for Jersey City?

If the Port Authority was proactive at all, they would be thinking about linking the PATH with the ferry service, light rail, and New York City’s subway system; linkage with the New York subway system is the key component.

World Trade Center PATH station, image by ILNY

World Trade Center PATH station, image by ILNY

So how do we do that?

Well, how do you effect change? We need change of leadership at the Port Authority, number one. We need change in governance practices at the state assembly, and they are going through those right now. I think we need a culture shift — we have a culture of entitlement. And some of the rules for a supposedly bipartisan agency work in theory, but they do not work in practice.

Do you think there’s a bigger push for change on the Jersey side?

Yes. I think there’s a bigger push in Jersey because of the current state of politics, and awareness surrounding the dysfunction of the Port Authority. I think it’s not on New York’s radar screen — and that’s not right or wrong, but they don’t have the same sense of urgency that New Jersey does.

What would be a bigger priority — extending the 7 train to Secaucus, or integrating the existing PATH system with the NYC subway?

I think we are going to need to establish new capabilities; linking them is an easy thing, but we need to invest dollars into new infrastructure. The ARC tunnel was important, but Christie killed that.

Jersey City builds four housing units per 1,000 residents each year, while NYC only builds 2.5. How can NYC emulate Jersey City’s success when it comes to new construction?

We’ve been very proactive in attracting investment. Jersey City has an incentive program that makes sense, and it shifts investment towards the inner parts of the city. The price-point that we’re at relative to Manhattan — there are obstacles there relative to livability, and I think the structure is very difficult. We’ve tried our best to make the building department friendly, not just personally friendly, but from the standpoint of timeliness and efficiency. I think zoning flexibility — and the ability to adapt — are hugely important. Jersey City has shown that there is room for growth, and flexibility is key.

How many units are under construction in Jersey City right now?

Six thousand are under construction, and we have 12,000 coming in the next two years.

Urban Ready Living

Urban Ready Living, a three-towered project on the Jersey City waterfront, image by Ironstate

I know there was discussion regarding a new casino project; it’s going to be 100 stories tall?

Ninety-five. We need a legislative change next year for gaming in northern New Jersey, but we’re already building 70-story towers, so getting to 95 floors is not a big deal.

Would you like to push Jersey City’s skyline above Manhattan’s one day?

I don’t think that we’re even in that conversation yet. New York City’s skyline is the best in the world, and I think that we have an impressive skyline by comparable city sizes — we just happen to be next to the best in the world. It’s tough to compete.

Well it’s a collective skyline — it doesn’t end on one side of the harbor.

When you come into the turnpike, New York City and the Jersey City skylines merge together — you can’t tell the difference. And on the harbor, seeing substantial development on all sides — it’s a good thing.

Journal Square and Urban Ready Living are the two largest projects underway now, correct? Are there any similar developments in the pipeline?

The Trump building is going to be a similar size; Goldman Sachs came in regarding a new tower next to their existing building on the waterfront, and we’re just starting to talk about that.

65 Bay Street

65 Bay Street on right, next to existing Trump Building — image via Humphreys & Partners

Is it going to be office?

It’s unclear, but they’ve shown an interest. Behind that building is a lot owned by China Construction, and that could be a building of a comparable size, we’re talking 50 stories. So yes, there’s a lot in the pipeline.

Journal Square is also emerging as another neighborhood where we’re seeing a lot of construction. I think people have been hesitant to build in Journal Square because they don’t see the potential, but the infrastructure is clearly there. So what do you see happening there over the next decade?

Steel is coming out of the ground for the first Journal Squared tower. In ten years it will be the heart of the city again.

Journal Squared

Journal Squared, image by HWKN

Even compared to downtown Jersey City?

Yes. Because you have the Loew’s Theatre — it’s a 3,000 seat theater – and there are 12 other projects in the pipeline. You have transportation access, a bus terminal, and eventually Journal Square will once again become the heart of the city.

How do you get people to build in Journal Square, because right now it seems like developers are reluctant to push forward?

The abatement program is skewed towards Journal Square, actually, and that’s an incentive program of tax abatements; as you move farther away from the waterfront, developers receive larger incentives to build.

City Center Towers and The San Remo

City Center Towers in Journal Square at left, The San Remo (on the waterfront) at right, images by Humphreys & Partners

Are you happy with the current pace of new construction?

It’s tremendous, we just need to make sure we match what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of infrastructure. Schools, sewers, transportation.

But in terms of transit, you’re taking advantage of existing infrastructure, yes?

Yes, but the more we market the city and the more we grow, the more transit we will need. We’re trying to find dollars from the private sector to create additional light rail stops. I think relative to historic opportunities, we’re doing a great job.

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Posted in Architecture | Infrastructure | Jersey City | New Jersey | Residential | Steven Fulop