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Friday, March 28, 2008

Just a Cab Ride Away

The urban renaissance in Hoboken and downtown Jersey City has resulted in oft made comparisons to New York's outer boroughs (If you haven't figured it out by now, New York's Sixth slyly refers to Jersey City / Hoboken as the fabled Sixth Borough). Yet there is one obstacle that separates New Jersey from the Five Boroughs: taxi cabs.

Step into a cab (literally, inside), and the driver must by law whisk you away to any of the five boroughs, Westchester, Nassau, or the area airports. A needle may be easier to find in a haystack than a yellow cab in the outer boroughs, but a driver can't refuse to take you there once you get in. Not so with trips to Hoboken or Jersey City.

Travelers heading to the west bank of the Hudson River can be refused service, and even when cab drivers agree, the charges are discretionary. In some cases, cab drivers charge a flat fee around $50. In other cases, drivers cite a fare of twice the meter plus the tunnel toll. Either way, consumers headed home to New Jersey pay about twice the cab fare as those headed to western Brooklyn or Queens.

In fairness of course, yellow cabs can't pick up passengers in New Jersey, making every mile out of the Holland Tunnel cost them twice as much. But "double meter" fares usually include the entire trip, not just the New Jersey portion. That's a great deal for those hailing a cab from canal street, but not so much when coming from upper Manhattan or an outer borough.

No part of Hoboken or downtown Jersey City is more than 2 miles from the Holland tunnel. Cabs cost $2 per mile making a $50 fare seems more like price gouging than a reasonable assessment. But there is one thing most cab drivers do in New Jersey: fill up on cheap gas. New York gas costs more than gas in New Jersey, largely because of taxes, and the difference can be twenty to thirty cents a gallon.

Either way, Hoboken councilman Ruben Ramos wants all this to change, according to Hoboken Now. He wrote a letter to the commissioner of the taxicab and limousine commission "regarding exorbitant fees for taxi rides from Manhattan to New Jersey municipalities." Not that we disagree with his sentiments, but we don't see the commission doing anything about it.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Council to Address Erie Street Disaster Waiting to Happen

Back in January, we pointed out a rising number of serious traffic accidents on Erie Street. For some reason, cars keep jumping curbs and running down fences and smashing into houses. Last year, the city council tabled an ordinance to install additional stop signs along Erie Street. According to Councilman Fulop, the council has untabled the ordinance. We can only say its long over due.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Internet Fuels Whole Foods Speculation

The original Whole Foods rumor was started shortly after Jersey City's first two yuppies met each other. Years later, there's still no Whole Foods, and the rumors keep swirling.

One such rumors was started here, on April 1, 2006, posting alongside such headlines as "West Side Stadium Heads West: Hoboken Jets to Play 2008 Season" and "Staten Island Concedes, Hudson County Becomes Fifth Borough" a short blurb suggesting Whole Foods was coming to Jersey City. April 1st is also known as April Fool's Day, a holiday celebrating practical jokes.

Six months later, a Jersey Journal article ran suggesting Whole Foods would eventually become an anchor tenant in Liberty Harbor North. Developer Peter Mocco would not then confirm his development was in negotiations with Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods continued to roll out new stores across the river in Manhattan. Early in 2007, Whole Foods was rumored to be coming to Newport's River Market, a retail block referring to the completed Shore Club and under construction Aqua tower. That grocery store turned out to be a Morton Williams, a 30,000 square foot space. That store is set to open in about a month.

Also in 2007, Mocco again confirmed Liberty Harbor was seeking a gourmet grocery store for for a major retail building on the corner of Grand Street and Jersey Avenue. However, Whole Foods was not definite, with Wegmans and Trader Joe's being suggested as alternatives by real estate agents.

The most recent rumor began today when a poster on JCList mentioned contacting a representative from Northwest Atlantic Real Estate Services. Northwest provides real estate services to major retailers, including Whole Foods. The response from the agent was simply "There is something in the works." Several hours later, new blog Grove Street "confirmed" the rumor. Accord to Grove Street blog, the representatives reply was "We are working on some stuff in jc. The exact location is still under wraps. Stay tuned."

Such rumors immediately lead to speculation across the internet as where a new Whole Foods would be located. Whole Foods requires fifty to sixty thousand square feet, and prefers on site, dedicated parking, according to an old Whole Foods website. Obviously, Whole Food's Manhattan outlets have forgone with dedicated parking. Whether or not the store would be willing to do the same in Jersey City is uncertain.

Given the size requirements, few planned retail spaces would provide large enough square footage for Whole Foods. Presently, no vacant, existing retail space downtown would accommodate the store. Newport, having just leased retail space to a competing store, won't be inviting Whole Foods to any of their retail space anytime soon. The under construction 77 Hudson Street has only 20,000 feet of retail planned, according to the JC Reporter, and that space is divided.

One suggestion on JCList was that Whole Foods was partnering with the recently approved Toll Brothers Powerhouse development; such a deal would probably bolster sales for Toll. Toll's outer borough properties have been rumored to be selling slowly, and the added amenity of a Whole Foods might be seen as a key component to the massive project. Another possibility would be that Liberty Harbor North finally closed a deal with Whole Foods for their planned retail structure. Other downtown projects currently under construction are not large enough for Whole Foods.

Regardless of its accuracy, the rumors once again are spreading across the internet. In all likelihood, today's rumor is simply the usual hype of enthusiasts hoping for a Whole Foods.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Slowdown Could Cause Future Housing Crisis

By all accounts, the real estate boom is over. Even stalwart New York City markets can not holdout forever against the bloodletting across the country. Developers, fearing the oversupply of the late 1980's and early 1990's may have already thrown on the breaks to many new development projects. Outer borough markets in the region are already feeling the effects of hard to obtain credit and a grim economic forecast.

The most notable change is anecdotal evidence suggesting fewer new construction projects breaking ground, or delays in long planned projects. Delayed, canceled, or otherwise postponed projects include the Monaco / San Remo towers, the Metropolitan Tower, and the Metropolis Expansion project.

Yet demographic shifts are very different today than during the last housing glut two decades earlier. The migration out of urban centers is beginning to reverse course. The high crime, poor services, and lower quality of life that plagued cities of yesteryear have been all but forgotten. Indeed for many former suburbanites turned city dweller, the crime infested, trash filled streets of 1980's New York exists only as a Hollywood creation.

A million people are expected to move to New York City over the next decade. With rising energy prices, the exburbs are far less likely places to absorb over flowing populations, and people looking for more space or more affordable residences will certainly turn to transit accessible locations like Jersey City. The people are coming whether the building boom continues or not.

While buyers may temporarily be scarce, large scale projects require several years between ground breaking and resident move in. However, pent up demand after an economic slow down can cause a shortage as future developments ramp up production. Based on population growth projections, a slowing in construction means a housing shortage crisis is imminent.

So far, the toll on Jersey City's new projects is clear. At the beginning of 2008, the Monaco Towers project went before the planning board seeking a tax abatement amendment. The developers claimed that without the change, financing for the project could not be secured. The complex, originally envisioned as condos, was also shifted to rentals. The city denied the amended abatement, and the future of that 674 unit project is now entirely uncertain.

Meanwhile, the Metropolis Towers expansion project seems to be indefinitely on hold. Two existing towers sit on an oversized lot. In late 2006, a low rise connector building between the towers was demolished in preparation for a multiphase expansion that included a parking garage and two approved high rise residential towers with 420 units, as well as two future buildings. Nothing has happened on that site since then, and speculation is that financial troubles have prevented the project from going forward.

Another probably victim of the credit crisis is the Metropolitan Tower, an 809 unit building that would have served as the cornerstone to an eight tower redevelopment of the Metro Plaza strip mall. The project was originally supposed to break ground in 2007, but that was before the collapse of credit markets, and since then has otherwise disappeared.

Another project that seems to have evaporated is the Bates tower by Mushroom Development. This 129 unit project planned for the fringes of the gentrified downtown was originally suppose to break ground in the spring of 2007. Not even a construction fence has been erected around the property.

But its not simply condominium projects that are slowing down. Construction on Newport's Aqua rental tower seems to have slowed to a crawl. And another 950 units in the Columbus Towers project may be farther off than first expected. 70 and 90 Columbus seemed an inevitability after it was announced sister building 50 Columbus had been leased out in just few months. Yet around the site for 70 and 90 Columbus, a new, semi-permanent fence has recently been erected.

Still, there are a few projects that seemingly are bucking the trend having broken ground after the collapse of the credit market. 110 First Street, a rental building, seems to be moving forward, and Crystal Pointe, a condominium project will soon have a first floor. But these projects are a pittance to those planned just a year ago.

In the short term, its likely that a slow and steady stream of new residences will accommodate housing demands in the near future. But on a longer time line, demand will likely outstrip supply as the larger projects require greater lead time for completion, fueling another run up in housing costs.

Starbucks On Thursday?

Rumors are circulating that the wait for the Grove Pointe Starbucks may finally be coming to an end. According to the Grove St. Blog, the Grove Pointe Starbucks is set to open on Thursday.

Starbucks rumors first started circulating more than a year ago. Many brushed those rumors aside as merely Realtor marketing ploys to sell condos. But in the first week of January a coming soon sign heralding Starbucks' arrival appeared. Construction on the retail space moved quickly and the tell tale Starbucks Beacon has been illuminated for several nights already.

Rumor has it a third downtown Starbucks is still planned for the waterfront. The Newport Starbucks was closed for several months last year while undergoing renovations.

Via JC Reader


Monday, March 17, 2008

Westin Hotel to Have Steakhouse

The currently under construction Westin Hotel will be home to a "signature steakhouse" according to Starwood Hotels website. The hotel is set to open November 1, and is currently considering group reservations only.


The steakhouse planned for the Westin Hotel will be South City Prime, a new division of South City Grill. South City Grill operates in the base of Newport's Pacific building.


Bear Stearns Loss May Be Jersey City's Gain

Over the weekend, investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed and sold itself to JP Morgan Chase. On the whole, the melt down at Bear Stearns may signal more trouble ahead for investment banks, a major industry in New York and in Jersey City's waterfront business district. But at the same, the sale to JP Morgan may ultimately benefit Jersey City.

Bear Stearns considered relocating some offices to Jersey City waterfront in 2001. Later, under Governor Jim McGreevey, tax incentives for business relocation were withdrawn, and Stearns took offices in Brooklyn instead. JP Morgan on the other hand, has a larger presence in Jersey City with several office locations. With the absorption of Bear Stearns, there will no doubt be layoffs as the businesses consolidate. But with a large footprint in Jersey City already, JP Morgan may ultimately add some former Stearns employees to the Gold Coast.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Renovated Liquor Store Could Open Next Week

Willie's Liquor, a neighborhood shop on Jersey Ave and Mercer Street closed a few months back. New owners Liberty Harbor Wine have renovated several store fronts adjacent to the old Willie's liquor location more than tripling the size of the old store. Beer was in refrigeration units over the weekend and rumors have the store opening possibly as early as Wednesday.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hoboken Condo Building Sold as Rental Complex

Originally intended to be a condominium building, 1000 Jefferson was sold as a rental complex after the real estate market softened, reports Trading While the rest of the country has suffered dramatic depreciation in real estate values over the last year, New York and the urban neighborhoods surrounding the city have claimed immunity. However, 1000 Jefferson is not the only complex to go from condo to rental reversing a trend of the past decade when many rental towers were converted to condos.

The Monaco Towers, intended for a site on Washington Boulevard in Jersey City, recently switched their plans from condominium towers to rentals. The city later denied the developer's request to amend the abatement, leaving open the question of whether or not the towers will even be built.

Another property to have been rumored to make the switch is the Cliffs Lofts. The Cliffs Lofts located on the border between Hoboken and Jersey City is squeezed between the Palisades Cliffs and Paterson Plank Road, a mile from the Hoboken PATH station in an altogether undesirable location. Rumor has it the project failed to generate enough sales and was sold off as a rental complex.

While real estate buyers may be scarce, renters are not in short supply. Grove Pointe and 50 Columbus, two large towers across the street from each other, quickly filled the available apartments even as both building opened their doors at roughly the same them. This should pave the way for new rental towers such as 70 and 90 Columbus and continued expansion of Newport in Jersey City, primarily rental community.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gourmet Chinese Restaurant Set to Open This Week

Grand Sichuan bought Grove Street noodle shop DJ Garden (pictured below) a few months back and now are in the process of renovating the restaurant. Grand Sichuan promises genuine Sichuan cuisine, and should be open March 13th.

Grand Sichuan via JC List

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Signal Failure Exposes Vulnerabilities

Saturday night, for two hours, a catastrophic signal failure suspended all PATH services severing connections between Jersey City and New York. Around nine o'clock, the last train for two hours limped into the Grove Street station a few feet at a time while nervous New Yorkers looked on in horror. For two hours, the Hudson River might as well have been the Berlin Wall.

Many Jersey City bound passengers stuck in New York were sent on a circuitous route on NJ Transit trains, requiring a transfer at Secaucus Junction to Hoboken bound trains before a second transfer to the light rail. Ferry services were not operating.

The signal failure may bolster Mayor Healy's argument in favor of building a Jersey City light rail connection to Secaucus Junction via Sixth Street and the Bergen Arches; such an alternative route would have reduced the total number of transfers required to circumvent PATH services and would have put Journal Square within walking distance of a train line. Still, if such a failure was to occur during a rush hour, the thousands of daily passengers would likely crush alternative services.

The PATH recently celebrated a 100 year anniversary, and the need for modernizing the system is obvious. The Port Authority last year promised to upgrade the PATH signals with a modern system that would allow a 20% increase in peak period trains, but that project will require 7 years to complete.

But even modern systems are not without flaws. For instance, the MTA began upgrading the L lines signals more than a decade ago, and while the line is now perhaps the most efficient in New York's system, the initial launch was not without hiccups, and peak efficiency is still two years away. Another signal fiasco in 2005 threatened to disrupt A C service for years after a fire destroyed signal equipment; that problem was later resolved within months, not years.

Yet while disruptions in MTA trains are inconvenient, the system continues to function. Not so with the PATH as Saturday's signal problems went on to shut down the entire system. Its certainly not a premature notion to suggest the time has come for a new, separate subway line connecting Manhattan and New Jersey. After all, the Second Avenue subway line was first proposed in 1929, and that may not be completed for another twenty years. Not only are thousands of new residences being constructed in Jersey City, but new developments adjacent to the Harrison PATH station will be dependent on the service. Newark's revitalization too will add commuters, as well as proposals in Bayonne, connected to the PATH by the light rail.

Saturday's service disruption was rather benign in contrast to what could have happened at rush hour on a weekday, but it should still serve to remind riders and the Port Authority alike just how vulnerable the system is, and the need for redundancies.


McMansion Builders Turn to McSkyscrapers

Toll Brothers and K. Hovnanian get a reach around from CNN Money. Always on top of the news, CNN has broken the story that condominium towers cost more and carry more risk than single family homes.

Gleaning the most interesting bits from the article:

25% of 77 Hudson is sold
85% of 700 Grove has sold
90% of Maxwell Place is under contract.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Powerhouses Are Awesome Says NYTimes

Jersey Cityzens may like to think of the powerhouse as the powerhouse, but as the NY Times reports, other nearby powerhouses can be just as cool. Most importantly though, Jersey City's powerhouse, long awaiting a debut into polite society is finally starting to move forward with renovations. The four year process relocating the PATH substation should begin in April.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Retail Happenings

Duane Reade Now Hiring
The long awaited Duane Reade planned for retail space in the Grove Pointe apartment tower may soon be opening its doors. The retail space along Newark Avenue, just west of the condominium entrance, is now donning the tell tale "Duane Reade Red" trim on interior walls and columns. And of course, there is this posted sign declaring the new location is seeking new hires.

Vintage Store Replaces Tea House
Local vintage store Another Man's Treasure is set to move in April from its current Brunswick Street location to 353 Grove Street. Janam Tea House, the former tenant of the Grove Street location, packed up and moved to the Pacific Northwest in February.

The Embankment Opens In Schroeder Lofts
A new restaurant and bar opened over the weekend in the corner retail space of the Schroeder Lofts. The Embankment is from the same folks who run The Merchant, a Grove Street establishment. Menus are online; the restaurant is located at Erie and 10th.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Coffee Chain Coming to Dixon Mills

Port City Java, a smaller national coffee retailer is set to open a downtown Jersey City location as noted by QSR Magazine. The new location is set to open a franchise at 158 Wayne Street near the Dixon Mills complex.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Ox Impresses NY Times, Us

The New York times ran a review of the Newark Avenue eatery that was nothing less than stellar. Ox opened last year on what is still a rather derelict section of Newark Avenue. The only thing we think the Times got wrong is the desserts. Ox's savory food can't be beat downtown, but for dessert, we recommend sticking to the liquid variety of sweet cocktails.

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New York's Sixth is a blog for the forgotten, de facto borough across the river featuring original content, commentary, and information relevant to living in Downtown Jersey City / Hoboken.


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