By Liana Grey
Last Thursday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and developer Richard LeFrak attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for Newport Green, a new playground and park at LeFrak’s master-planned community along the Jersey City waterfront.
The park’s completion marks the start of a new phase of development in Newport, following a period of slowed activity during the recession.
“Every time I talk to Richard, he’s talking about the next thing,” Governor Christie said at the ceremony, during which students from a local pre-school and elementary school were welcomed onto Newport Green’s jungle gym and carousel.
Indeed, the nearly five-acre park, which boasts the first urban beach in New Jersey, a recreational field, an outdoor ping pong table, and several landscaped gardens, is the latest of a string of ambitious plans for the 400-acre community that’s a short PATH ride away from lower Manhattan.
LeFrak is seeking a tenant for office space he hopes to build on Pier 6, a former slaughterhouse that now houses construction equipment.
And a new residential high-rise is under construction on Washington Boulevard, across the street from Newport Green. Once the tower is complete, the LeFrak family plans to build six more.
“This solidifies Newport’s reputation as the most extraordinary place along the Hudson River,” LeFrak said of the spate of new development in recent months.
Twenty-five years ago, the neighborhood and all its attractions — including a mall, ice skating rink, waterfront esplanade, several schools, and 13 glass-curtain wall residential towers, many overlooking the Manhattan skyline and New York harbor — were the site of abandoned rail yards, rotting wharfs, and industrial lots, some of which had to undergo environmental remediation.
“This was known as the worst section of Jersey City,” the city’s mayor, Jerremiah Healey, said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Once the LeFrak family and their partner, the mall developer Melvin Simon, began to clean up Newport with support from the public sector, the rest of the city saw a trickle-down effect.
Historic downtown Jersey City, with its popular Grove Street and Hamilton Park neighborhoods, and parts of Journal Square underwent a renaissance over the last few decades, with a plethora of luxury developments, including Trump Plaza Residences, rising and new shops and restaurants opening up.
Even the city’s far western border, along the Hackensack River, and its southern border with Bayonne have seen improvements, Mayor Healy said. Not long ago, an esplanade was built connecting Jersey City with Hoboken.
“They were the snowball that started rolling down the hill,” the mayor said of the LeFrak family and their vision to jump-start redevelopment in the decaying, post-industrial city. “The renaissance in Jersey City started right here.”
Governor Christie sees Newport, with its 15,000 residents, 20,000 office workers, 14 acres of green space, and access to the PATH train and light rail, as a model for urban redevelopment across the state.
“We continue to make all the urban areas of New Jersey revitalized,” he said. “This shows what can be done when visionary members of the private sector partner with the public sector.”