JERSEY CITY, NJ – When city officials first proposed to close down a portion of Newark Avenue near Grove Street in 2015 to construct a pedestrian mall, many people had serious doubts.
But the mall became more than just a place for people to relax as they ate at the array of local eateries, evolving also into a cultural center featuring a number of public events, including the annual Pride Festival, arts programs, and even a space for the public to gather and cry out against social injustices elsewhere in the country.
“The creation of the Pedestrian Plaza was a risk our administration took when first elected as there was significant pushback, but I think over time it has become clear to everyone that the changes we made there have attracted more people, allowed more businesses to open, and created a destination spot for visitors and residents,” Fulop said previously.
The Pedestrian Mall was first closed to vehicles in 2015 as an experiment to limit traffic and create a pedestrian destination. Expanded to a second block in 2018, it took on even greater significance, and grew again, further to Grove Street between Montgomery Street and Christopher Columbus Drive as well as 1st Street and Newark Avenue, during COVID-19.
The concept worked so well that the city eventually expanded the mall beyond its original boundaries and Monday officially broke ground on a third major expansion, in the form of a $6.7 million upgrade plan.
Fulop described that the cost will be covered through a long term bond making the impact on the annual budget minimal. The impact on the businesses however, he continued, will be “significant.”
“This is a long term investment.”
Joining Fulop at the ceremonial groundbreaking were a number of local business owners including Steve Kalcanides of Helen’s Pizza. Also serving as president of the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District, Kalcanides reflected that when the street first became pedestrianized some of his counterparts were nervous about a lack of traffic.
These changes, however, proved to be a “game changer,” he said and the area is now much more people and family friendly. Mark Kahn, owner of Downtown Yogurt, offered that the continued expansion of the pedestrian mall is a testament to what can be accomplished when the business community sticks together.
The anticipated upgrades, expected to be completed by October, include granite pavers to replace the green painted asphalt and elevate the street level to match the sidewalk for a more cohesive structure with greater stroller and wheelchair accessibility. Decorative trench drains will line the existing curb, rain garden tree planters will be installed, and café lighting will be added for improved visibility. A stage area will also be constructed for community events.
“This is a concept that has worked in the greatest cities around the world,” Rachel Sieg, Executive Director of the HDSID said. “Those of us that know and love Jersey City have no problem putting our city up against any other, and this project, designed to make our business community more vibrant, will make it even more special.”
The Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza upgrade isn’t the only project underway to help revive Jersey City’s business corridors.
The community-driven Central Avenue improvement project includes a 400-spot parking deck along with a 10,000 square foot pedestrian plaza, promoting efforts to revitalize the commercial corridor, including through added lighting, improved drainage, and the installation of benches, and develop open public space for community events.
The West Side Avenue improvement project includes new underground sewer infrastructure to reduce pollution in local waterways and alleviate localized flooding. On the ground level, the streetscape design will get a significant facelift spanning from Broadway to Sip Avenue with additional tree plantings and various green infrastructure installations for stormwater absorption and beautification throughout the shopping district. Future phases of the project will extend the improvements further south into Ward A.
Follow us on Facebook and sign up for TAPinto Jersey City E-News alerts to be the first to read about all things Jersey City!
Download the FREE TAPinto App! Click here for Android – Click here for iOS for breaking news, traffic/weather alerts and special offers.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.