By Stan Eason
Stan Eason was Director of Communications for the City of Jersey City when Glenn Cunningham was Mayor.
Originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of NJ Municipalities Magazine
The Midas Touch
Building a safe city is inherent within the Golden Neighborhoods plan, which has been on the fast track the last two years.
The "readying" of the emergency response officials to the unpredictable coincided with the highly successful Anti-Crime Initiative that was launched in November 2001.
The ACI, which led to an unprecedented 9,000 drug related arrests in that span, incorporated a holistic approach to drug abuse and its related crimes by offering intervention programs, identifying youths at risk and developing a second chance program for single-arrest offenders who need employment.
"If we are going to rebuild a city and continue its growth, people need to feel safe," Cunningham said. "Arresting drug offenders, which takes a bite out of several crime trends, isn't the only answer, it's one of the tools. That's why we need other tools, be it our second-chance program or identifying juveniles at risk before they head down the wrong path."
A safe city is inspiring to developers. Currently there is $2.5 billion in construction under way, including 6 buildings with four million square feet of office space and another 10 residential buildings under, or near completion with a total of 2,238 apartments on the waterfront.
In the center of the city, Journal Square, the city broke ground on the first new project there in 20 years. This new construction will include 130 apartments and storefront retail space, and 30 of the residential units will be reserved for people with low or modeate incomes.
In the historic downtown area, or the Powerhouse District, the first artist's housing project has begun, which will include 60 new apartments and retail space. Ten percent of those apartments will be for low- and moderate-income residents.
And, in the inner city neighborhoods that were in desperate need of renewal, new in-fill housing is sprouting up through nearly every corridor. There are nearly 1000 units of low and moderate income housing underway or approved for construction.
However, the crown jewel in the Golden Neighborhoods Initiative was recently realized during the groundbreaking of a 24-unit affordable housing complex in the inner city that will be completely constructed by Goldman Sachs as a donation to the city.
It is the first such agreement in the city's history, but marks the beginning of what Cunningham envisions as a greater relationship with the city between its development community and the residents.
"The people at Goldman never hesitated. It's their commitment to the community where they have set up their corporate offices that will be an example for others to follow," Cunningham said. "The Jersey City story was 'a tale of two cities' because while our Gold Coast was experiencing tremendous development, our neighborhoods were neglected. I am focusing on all our neighborhoods so that all of Jersey City benefits from the construction boom."
However, despite the development growth, the region and country are still mired in a depressed economy and fiscal spending had to be watched closely. For two straight years Cunningham froze property taxes, trimmed government fat, managed to hire new police officers and firefighters despite the inherited $54 million dollar structural deficit.
"Tough decisions had to be made to fix the budget problems. I knew that could be done," Cunningham said.
His five-year economic plan was praised by the State Local Finance Board for incorporating a long-range financial recovery plan, which included refinancing $120 million in debt while interest rates were at historic lows. The result saved the city $14 million in debt fees this year alone.
"Today we mark another milestone on the comeback trail of Jersey City," said DCA Commissioner Susan Bass Levin during the spring '03 announcement that Jersey City would exit the Distressed Cities program.
"Getting the prosperity of the Waterfront development to be realized in our
inner city was my top challenge," Cunningham said. "We had to get developers to commit to our vision of Golden
Neighborhoods and that has happened. The people of the rest of the
city see that what is happening on our
Hudson River waterfront benefits the
rest of the city, too. With crime being
decreased and taxes being stabilized,
Jersey City is a top Destination City."