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Jersey City is booming, but gentrification fears loom large

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Amid an influx of apartments and new businesses, longtime residents worry about change

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The New York Times brings its latest “gentrification watch” to Jersey City, a city undergoing big changes, from new residential development to bourgeoning night life along Newark Avenue. As the article points out, Jersey city was our Curbed Cup winner for 2016—even Mayor Steven Fulop got in on the action by urging JC residents to vote.

Mayor Fulop is a big part of the Times’ profile, as he has encouraged large-scale development and also championed incoming small businesses throughout the city. The mayor told the Times that there are 10,000 new residential units now under construction (thanks to developments like Journal Squared and Jersey City Urby), with another 17,000 approved. More than 600 new small businesses have also opened within the past three years, many of them bars and restaurants.

As the Times notes, the city, which covers an area almost the size of Manhattan, has come a long way since the 1980s. It was seen as a riskier area for investment than neighboring Hoboken, with its abandoned buildings and a long-neglected waterfront. But as the story goes, artists migrated into old buildings and revitalized them; cafes, bars, and restaurants eventually followed; and the developers came not long after.

Now development is moving full speed ahead, attempting to bank on the growing nightlife scene. Jeremy Kaplan, COO of the Kushner Real Estate Group, which owns four residential buildings and has two more under construction, says that “I always find myself highlighting the growth of the restaurant and bar scene. I’m screaming it from the rooftops.”

The changes also have residents preparing for prices to soon rival Hoboken’s. Danny Harrison, a Jersey City resident and vice president for real estate at B&D Holdings, told the Times that, “In my opinion, Jersey City downtown is only two to three years away from becoming Hoboken, which will significantly increase the real estate value but will take away from the flair and uniqueness of Jersey City.”

One real estate developer called the boom “unreal” and says he has lost over 20 real estate bids in the increasingly competitive market. According to him, investors are buying buildings at high prices with low returns, which increases rents significantly. It’s a problem that’s priced out longtime small business owners.

Much of the development and new business revolves around the Grove Street PATH station and nearby Newark Avenue—once a stretch of “shuttered discount stores and grim bodegas,” as the Times puts it. It boomed after an initiative by Mayor Fulop to pass legislation to lift regulations affecting the strip. A stretch of the street was also turned into a pedestrian mall with planters, bike racks and picnic tables. With rising concerns of noise and rowdiness—one bar, the Bistro, earned the local nickname “the Bro-stro”—the mayor has had to deploy a more visible police presence on the strip at peak hours.

Longtime business owners have greeted the rapid transformation with trepidation, although some are picking up new business. Terry Tan, who opened the Cicada bar in the 1980s, had to fight the city in 2005 when it brought an eminent domain suit against him. Today, the squat building that holds his bar is surrounded by new residential towers.

What was once a working-class bar has now attracted Jersey City newcomers. “I think his bar traffic has escalated along with the development because he’s got this unique character and feeling of authenticity,” Mayor Fulop tells the Times. It remains to be seen how long that authenticity will remain.