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Jersey City News

Artists Aim for the Heights in Jersey City

Wall Street Journal | by Jennifer Weiss

An arts district approved for a section of Jersey City's Heights neighborhood could spur new development and bring more creative types to an area that is already home to many artists.

The Riverview Arts District in the eastern part of the Heights was designated back in the 1980s but never fully materialized. Zoning changes permitting live-work and studio spaces for artists were formally adopted by the city in February.

Artists have lived and worked in converted industrial buildings and other spaces in the neighborhood for many years. More recently, the neighborhood has drawn white-collar professionals and families priced out of other areas or looking for more space for their money. Brokers and residents say the creation of the arts district makes it still more desirable.

"We have a branding opportunity to promote the area for both commercial and residential use and make it more attractive, really create an identity for the Heights as a concentrated arts area," said Becky Hoffman, president of the Riverview Neighborhood Association.

Another recently approved measure allows ground-level restaurants on a portion of Palisade Avenue, a key street in the neighborhood.

"It's something to watch," said Joshua Tedeschi, a sales associate with American Homes Realty. "It means that there are going to be a lot of commercial conversions."

Central Avenue, a main street for retail and restaurants, is dotted with inexpensive eateries, mostly Latin American, Italian and Chinese. Food favorites on the strip include Rumba's Cafe, Andrea Salumeria and Goehrig's Bakery.

The Trolley Car Bar & Grill, which opened on Palisade last year, is one of a group of new businesses in the neighborhood. It has been a draw, offering food, four dozen types of beer and special events such as a recent pig roast. It was modeled after a "typical Hoboken bar," said its owner, Esteban Castro, 52 years old. Across the street is a new condo conversion, the Trolley House Lofts.

Newer stores in the neighborhood include Faded Royalty, an urban fashion boutique with a brightly painted exterior. Luca Gentile, 42, co-owner of bike shop Jersey Cycles, said the Heights reminds him of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood years ago.

"As more people discover the neighborhood, I see the change happening overnight," he said.

Sean McClain, 37, the owner of Empire United Fencing, recently relocated his fencing club from Chelsea in Manhattan to the first level of a warehouse building on Palisade Avenue, where he pays one-third as much as he did in Chelsea. Upstairs in the same building last fall, a pop-up art gallery showcased work by local artists during the annual Jersey City Artists Studio Tour.

Galleries in the neighborhood are rare, but local artists said they hope the arts district will create new opportunities to show work. One site that has opened in recent years is the Distillery Gallery, at 7 Hutton St.

The neighborhood, at the northern end of Jersey City, is perched on the Palisade Cliffs overlooking Hoboken and the Hudson River. The section was once a separate city, Hudson City, which was folded into Jersey City by 1870.

Ogden Avenue, a sought-after residential street, is among the spots offering sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline. Another is nearby Riverview-Fisk Park, where residents are raising money to rebuild a gazebo destroyed in superstorm Sandy.

Yoga in the Heights offers a donation-based yoga class outdoors on Sundays at 11 a.m. in the park. A farmers' market fills the park on Sundays and the inaugural Riverview Jazz Festival is scheduled in the park for June 2.

At the neighborhood's northern border is Washington Park, a county park split between Jersey City and Union City at Paterson Plank Road which offers basketball and tennis courts. At another park, Pershing Field, there are a skating rink and newly renovated public pool.

Reservoir No. 3, a retired city reservoir, is a swath of green space and water offering hiking and kayaking.

While there are several bus lines and independently operated jitneys, commuting to Manhattan and Jersey City's Downtown can be onerous at times, especially at night.

A city project set to start soon is the 100 Steps, a stairway linking the Heights to Hoboken and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. Commuters can already access the Ninth Street-Congress Street Light Rail station by an elevator.

The housing stock in the Heights is a mix of one-, two- and three-family homes and low-rise condo and apartment buildings. Brokers said that inventory is low and that investors have been scooping up properties and paying in cash.

"There are a lot more foreign investors than there used to be, from Asia and the Middle East and Israel, buying all in cash," said Marcia Langley, a sales associate with Liberty Realty.

But first-time homebuyers are still finding properties in the neighborhood as well.

Ayana April and James Sanders, both 27, moved to the Heights recently from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The engaged couple bought a two-bedroom condo that offers a fairly easy commute to their jobs in Manhattan. "We have more space and are paying way less than our rent," Ms. April said.

Artists have added color to the neighborhood with public art installations and murals. A strip of decorated tiles on an overhang at the northern end of Riverview-Fisk Park has been in place for more than a decade.

Longtime resident Beverly Brown Ruggia, 52, organized the project with Heights artist Sandy Martiny, working with local children.

Ms. Brown Ruggia, who lived near SoHo years ago, said she has seen artists move into neighborhoods only to be "chased away" by development. She doesn't foresee that happening in the Heights because, for one thing, many artists already own their own homes.

"I hope that will make a difference here," she said.

Write to Jennifer Weiss at jennifer.weiss@dowjones.com
Full article is here.