Mayor Steven Fulop’s controversial $6.7 million renovation of the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Mall moved forward today with an official groundbreaking.
“Today is a step in making it a more permanent and significant destination for Jersey City and all of Northern New Jersey. Since we did this, we’ve seen the businesses in the area thrive and we hope that the further investment in the area is going to make these businesses in the area excel even further,” said Fulop.
When the renovation contract came up for a vote before the city council in February, Councilman-at-large Rolando Lavarro protested. “Two point seven million over what was originally budgeted and unable to explain how that happened…even though we’re doing streetscaping in other neighborhoods, it doesn’t come close to what we’re spending on this project.” Ward F city council candidate Frank “Educational” Gilmore questioned how the city could afford the project when it had passed on purchasing land slated to become a mammoth luxury housing development called Morris Canal Manor. “I’m just trying to figure out how we have money for that,” said Gilmore. The Jersey Journal weighed in with an editorial questioning the expense. Originally, the renovation had been projected to cost $4 million.
Many Newark Avenue business owners and Downtown residents appear to support the upgrades however. Mark Kahn who, along with his wife Debi, owns Downtown Yogurt , recounted first planning to open their store in 2013. “We had no idea that it was ultimately going to be such a successful pedestrian mall and such a successful example of what a business community can do when it sticks together.”
This being an election year, politics played a part in the event. Ward E Councilman James Solomon who represents the area and supports the project, apparently was not invited to the groundbreaking. Asked to comment, Solomon said “I’m happy to have worked with mayor Fulop and the administration to advance the upgrades to the pedestrian plaza and am not interested in photo ops. I’m only focused on the work of making people’s lives better in Downtown Jersey City.” Notably, Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut, who is running for Solomon’s seat under the “Team Fulop” banner, was in attendance and donned a hard hat and shovel for the ceremonial dirt toss.
First opened on a trial basis in 2014 and the subject of considerable pushback from some local businesses that objected to losing automobile access, the closed-off street has attracted new restaurants, shops, and large evening crowds.