Amid an army of TV cameras, news photographers, journalists, union members, and city, county and state officials, Gov. Jon Corzine helped put the first shovels in the dirt to officially begin the construction phase of the new “big-box” mall on Route 440.
The Bayonne Crossing Mall, on the eastern side of Route 440 between East 22nd Street and New Hook Road, will consist of 10 buildings on a 30-acre tract of land.
The acreage was cobbled together through a number of land deals over the last three years, but faced some serious environmental cleanup hurdles including removal of underground petroleum contaminants from the site, which once served as a storage area for the Standard Oil Company.
“They took their time, they did their homework.” – Mayor Mark Smith
Eric Alderman of Cameron Group LLC, the developer of the mall, said, “This project is more than about construction; is it about people” when thanking the hundreds of people involved in the effort.
The idea for the mall began in about 2003 to 2004, Alderman said.
He said officials from ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the environmental cleanup on the site, has been very cooperative in helping the project move ahead.
While he thanked various officials, he said that at the core, this project was a vision of the mayor’s office, starting under the auspices of Mayor Joseph Doria and picked up with gusto by new Mayor Mark Smith.
“Without Smith’s vision and his personal hands on guidance, there would be no project,” he said. “This is about the hope and the reality of growth that this brings to a community like Bayonne, and it is a symbol of what can happen throughout the state.”
“This event is called a ground breaking, but in truth it is much, much more,” said Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith. “What we truly have here today is a triumph of positive thinking. This is the victory of ‘can’ over ‘can’t,’ and a testimony to power of sheer determination – determination on the behalf of the people of Cameron Group, the state of New Jersey, from Hudson County and the City of Bayonne.”
Smith said the mall will be constructed on land that had been underused and contaminated for many years.
He said members of the Cameron Group looked at that land and had a vision for a world-class shopping center on that site.
“They took their time, they did their homework, and developed a bold plan that almost nobody believed could be accomplished – nobody but themselves and the City of Bayonne,” Smith said. “They worked tirelessly to move forward from concept to design to construction. They cobbled together parcels of land, working hand in hand with landowners and left no stone unturned to build strategic alliances to support this project.”
Smith said this was an example of how government and business can work together to get a project done.
But even though Smith said his administration embraced the vision, near the end there were still obstacles to overcome.
“We had several occasions when at the 11th hour we had to reach out to the governor of New Jersey,” he said. “And each and every time, this governor responded. Governor Corzine understood that this project was good for the environment, because it is going to clean up a vacated brown field. He understood that this project is good for our city because it means more than a million dollars in permanent annual property taxes. He understood that this project was good for labor because it puts people to work.”
Laughing as he came to the podium, Gov. Corzine said, “Thank God the phone calls from Mayor Smith have stopped – 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and 11:30 p.m. I’ve never seen anyone relentlessly pursue such an important project for people as Mayor Smith. The real issue today is very simple: jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
Corzine said it is a public-private partnership at its best, calling the mall, “a driver of revenue” for the City of Bayonne over a long period of time.
“You hear a lot about economic recovery programs; you hear a lot of about stimulus programs. They work when you get the private and public sectors together,” Corzine said.