A University-Neighborhood Revitalization Partnership in Jersey City
Smart Growth Award Category: Neighborhood Center-University Revitalization
Winners: Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, St. Peter’s College, Trinity Choice Communities
Smart-Growth Challenge: How do you revitalize a distressed but active urban neighborhood in a way that provides maximum benefit to its diverse communities?
McGinley Square, located at the intersection of Bergen Avenue and Montgomery Street in Jersey City, was originally a storage and maintenance hub for the city’s trolley system. It grew into a neighborhood business center with two-story shop buildings lining the streets, and later, with the construction by namesake Msgr. Roger McGinley of a church and several schools, and with newly founded St. Peter’s College nearby, into an educational and cultural nexus as well.
Over time, as trolley service was discontinued and businesses moved away from urban centers, McGinley Square declined as a neighborhood; its building stock aged and it now faces poverty and crime. It is still home, however, to many in the growing student body at St. Peter’s, now St. Peter’s University.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development chose the McGinley Square-Montgomery Street corridor as a Choice Neighborhoods grant recipient, providing $250,000 to be used to study ways to transform the area into a viable, mixed-use neighborhood. Bergen Communities United, a community group run by WomenRising Inc., a Jersey City-based nonprofit that helps women achieve financial self sufficiency and affordable housing, hosted a series of community meetings to identify priorities for revitalization and to create a workable plan that would involve residents in implementation.
The result is the McGinley Square Redevelopment Plan, which calls for the construction of retail, restaurants and entertainment facilities attractive to both residents and students, as well as affordable and workforce housing, on two surface parking lots; the development of several pocket parks; the conversion of a short block of nearby Orchard Avenue into a pedestrian-only festival street; increased connectivity via the construction of two new through streets; and the provision of new housing for St. Peter’s students. Street-level activity during both the day and the evening, plus planned streetscape improvements including lighting, will improve public safety. McGinley Square’s role as an educational and cultural hub will be preserved and enhanced: Both high schools in the area will remain, and nearby St. Aiden’s Church, now owned by St. Peter’s, will also be used as a concert venue.
In addition, transportation connectivity will be enhanced by a planned bus rapid transit route from Journal Square along Bergen Avenue and down Montgomery Street to the Jersey City waterfront. As well as serving the revitalized McGinley Square, this route passes and will serve the former Jersey City Medical Center, now redeveloped into luxury residences, and the Montgomery Gardens public housing, also slated for redevelopment.
When it is fully developed, McGinley Square will provide a safe, active, 24-hour neighborhood center that will benefit not just local businesses, residents and students but also St. Peter’s University itself, which looks forward to using it as a strong recruiting tool for faculty, staff and additional students.
Supporting Partners: Bergen United Community, Cooper Carry Architects and Jersey City Division of Planning