BAYONNE, NJ - The City of Bayonne celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019.
The city saw a number of events recognizing its long history, including the unveiling of portraits of mayors and council presidents early in the year in City Hall.
Originally called “Bayonia” when it served as a resort for famous families that included President Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain, Bayonne was incorporated after the Civil War. It’s first mayor was Henry Meigs, Jr., who saw the paving of the first street, the establishing of a gas light company, and the installation of gas lamps along the streets.
Bayonne became home of Standard Oil and a host of other companies that allowed the city to thrive as the home of industrial jobs, transitioning away from an agricultural economy.
Since the 1980s, Bayonne has seen a decline in industry, creating challenges for the city to build a new economic model. In 2019, the most significant events to occur during the years had more to do with the future than that past.
A few iconic businesses closed their doors this year, adding to the long list that have passed on over the last decade.
But new businesses such as Costco cut ribbons on facilities that suggested Bayonne may well have as bright a future as it has a past. Several new small businesses also opened their doors in 2019, including Estate Entertainment, El Aguilar Dorada, Stanlaw Fitness, and Avenue C Hardware.
The potential closing of the Bayonne Medical Center raised serious concerns among residents and public officials during the last few months of 2019. CarePoint, which took over the hospital in 2010, announced the sale of two of its other hospitals, and was seeking an operator to run the facility in Bayonne. The city established the Bayonne Hospital Authority in October as a tool to maintain the hospital.
In November, Neil Carroll III won reelection in a special election for the First Ward council seat, beating three challengers.
This year, Bayonne saw the retirement of its tax Assessor, Joe Nichols and its city Clerk, Robert Sloan, marking a significant change in city hall.
Nichols, who served in a number of capacities inside and outside government, oversaw this year’s reevaluation of assessed properties, the first since the early 1990s. Under his watch, his office took full advantage of upgrades to technology, allowing Bayonne to move into the 21st Century with confidence.
Sloan retired as the longest serving city clerk in Bayonne history, having served under seven different mayors over four decades.
After conducting a nationwide search, the Bayonne School Board voted to appoint John J. Niesz is Bayonne’s new school superintendent, replacing Dr. Patricia McGeehan who had served in that role for nearly 30 years.
Under his watch, the school district is expected to see its largest expansion in half a century, which will likely, based on a vision Mayor Jimmy Davis has shared, include the construction of new schools.
The school district paid tribute to Medal of Honor recipient William Shemin in October by renaming Midtown Community School after him.
The city also paid tribute to Lance Corporal Stanley J. Kopcinski, a U.S. Marine who was the first Bayonne resident killed in action in the Vietnam War by naming a park after him. Later in the year, the city also honored the 40-year service of Frank and Jean Perrucci, and the Concerned Citizens of Bayonne, the civic organization they founded.
2019 saw Bayonne taking huge strides towards redevelopment that had been stagnant for decades, not merely on the former Military Ocean Terminal, but also along key corridors in what is sometimes referred to as upland Bayonne. Projects along Avenue E have upgraded vacant or underused properties, and new residential developments have cropped up along Broadway, Prospect Avenue, and other parts of the city as well.
Even NJ Transit appears poised to take advantage of a real estate boom partly generated by the Hudson Bergen Light Rail with a proposed project near the 34th Street Light Rail Station.
Changes in Bayonne came in various shapes and sizes – which included the opening of a pedestrian/bicycle path along the reconstructed Bayonne Bridge.
The announcement in 2019 that Bayonne will soon get ferry service to New York City is a key piece in the redevelopment of the city. SeaStreak, a private ferry operator based in Atlantic Highlands, is expected to start operating service from the southern shore of the former Military Ocean Terminal on its way to Manhattan, starting in the spring of 2020.
An additional boost to the long-awaited redevelopment on the MOTBY was the establishing of a new special improvement district there.
This paved the way for the proposed construction of 25 buildings, including five 25-story residential towers, a hotel, and commercial and retail space by Malahaxmi Urban Renewal on a 26-acres of the long dormant site.
One of the sad losses to Bayonne this year was the closing of the Frank Theaters. This came after decades of failed attempts to replace theaters that had closed prior to the 1980s. The closing this year, however, came as part of a larger trend, as online services and other media changed the nature of a business in which traditional theaters struggled to compete.
Another historic change this year was the announcement that The Bridgeman marching band would become a performing arts organization
The band which made a comeback as an alumni drum and bugle corps in 2004, ceased regular public performances in 2016, but once more reinvented itself this year.
The Bayonne High School Marching Band, however, managed to come in second state competitions this year, providing music is still alive and well in the city.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.