A new life

Best Foods site set for redevelopment

In hopes of restoring what was once an icon of industry in Bayonne, the City Council moved to declare the former Best Foods site on Avenue A as a redevelopment zone at its July 18 meeting.
Best Foods, owned by Unilever, shut its doors finally in 2003 after years of downsizing and layoffs, leaving the Avenue A facility largely unoccupied since.
Slated for redevelopment to warehouse, light industrial and possible retail, the project is being developed by branch of Cameron Group, which most recently constructed the Bayonne Crossing Mall on Route 440 in Bayonne.
Designating the area for redevelopment allows the city to have special powers, such as requesting bids from developers to build according to certain guidelines.
The project was also given a $2.5 million loan in June, although the resolution will have to be voted on again at the August meeting because the original resolution listed the wrong lot numbers. This was an issue raised by Louis Ripps at the July 18 meeting, as his family currently owns the lots mentioned in the loan resolution.
In 2003, Unilever shut its mayonnaise-processing Best Foods plant at the southern tip of Avenue A and more than 100 workers lost jobs. But the facility had been in decline for several decades, said former workers, hardly the icon of that it had once been in the post-World War II era.
“I was an employee there at the end but it had been declining for years,” said former Councilman Anthony Chiappone. “For a long time, it was one of the few places where you could work near where you lived. Almost everybody knew someone who worked in Best Foods. It was one of the primary employers like Texaco and Exxon, and it was a very good place to work.”
Chiappone, who worked there from about 1986 until the plant’s closing, said that the company’s decline came in stages.
“It was spread over several decades,” he said. “At one time it employed more than 500 people. When I started there were about 150 working there.”
The facility had three sections: an oil processing session, a section for making of margarine and a section for making of mayonnaise.
During his years there, Chiappone moved from section to section, but ended up as a mixer for the mayonnaise ingredients.
But there were periods of time when he and other workers suffered layoffs.
“The work wasn’t always consistent,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to live with the layoffs so I started my own photography business, which I had for about 25 years.”
City Business Administrator Steve Gallo said the property would be converted for use of warehouse, light industrial and possibly some retail.
The City Council introduced the ordinance that would designate the site as an area in need of redevelopment. A public hearing is scheduled for the Aug. 15 meeting at 7 p.m. An accompanying resolution sends the ordinance to the Bayonne Planning Board for its review.
“It’s interesting,” said Mayor Mark Smith during a separate interview. “When you look at it, we have vibrant projects in uptown, midtown and downtown areas of the city. I think that shows there is a genuine interest in the City of Bayonne. I think we have put our best foot forward and we have made the tough decisions internally. That may not be demonstrative to the general public, but over the last three-and-a-half years we have fixed the sins of the past, and people are starting to recognize that. Legitimate quality developers and business people want to be apart of Bayonne and they see the same bright future was we do.”

“Almost everybody knew someone who worked in Best Foods.” – Anthony Chiappone

Other matters

An ordinance that would have required private property owners to remove at their own expense unused or broken satellite TV dishes died a quiet death at City Council members refused to allow it to come to a vote.
The matter had been tabled from the June 20 meeting after Councilman Joe Hurley raised questions about the cost to residents, in particular to senior citizens, and suggested that the company that installed the dishes might bear some of the cost of removal.
The dishes have become an eyesore around the city on many buildings, partly because the dish company did not require residents when giving up service to return all of the parts.
Hurley said the ordinance would have an impact on seniors who could least afford to deal with the cost.
The council also approved permits for posting of banners and signs on public buildings, schools and other public facilities around town for up to 30 days. This was also referred to the Planning Board for Review.
The City Council also outlawed the transference or sale of parking permits to people who are not residents of the City of Bayonne.
In another matter, the city council lowered penalties for the replacement or removal of curbside trees from $500 to $250.
The city council also agreed to start a new pilot program, paid for by a $16,500 grant from PetSmart Charities, Inc., that would allow the city and local animal groups to trap, neuter and release feral cats in a test area in the southwest portion of the city.

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