Real estate expert on development growth in Jersey City: I think it’s still very much in its infancy

Nevins McCann has seen the explosion of real estate development in Jersey City first hand.

McCann, co-chair of Connell Foley’s real estate and land use group, has been with the firm for more than two decades, working out of its Jersey City office.

He started when Jersey City was struggling to emerge from “a fairly impoverished city to a tremendously successful city,” he said.

And he saw Jersey City survive and thrive during the economic downturn.

“When the real estate bust happened and the bubble burst, the cranes were still working in Jersey City,” he said. “Real estate groups around the country were sitting on their hands and we we’re still active and moving forward.”

So, one could understand if he felt Jersey City had reached its peak for real estate.

Quite the contrary, he said.

McCann, who will be a featured presenter at the 4th Annual Jersey City Summit for Real Estate Investment on Nov. 13, said he feels the city is just getting started.

“I think Jersey City is still very much in its infancy and it’s becoming a leading city of the United States,” he told ROI-NJ.

“I think the eastern portion, the Gold Coast, has been pretty well developed. There’s still a lot left, but I think as it progresses west toward the Passaic River, then it will meet in the middle at Journal Square.”

McCann, who will introduce Gov. Phil Murphy and will moderate a fireside chat with two icons in the industry: Steve Pozycki, founder and CEO of SJP Properties, and Mike DeMarco, CEO of Mack-Cali, said Journal Square is the next hot spot.

“Journal Square is now all the buzz,” he said. “You see the Kushner building up. And there’s more and more people interested.

“My phone rings weekly with people looking to do a project in Journal Square.”

McCann credits two things for the city’s rise: The ability to use incentives and current Mayor Steve Fulop.

“Jersey City was very advanced back in the day with what they call the toolbox to attract sustainable investment,” he said. “That method was about cutting red tape and having an easy-to-work system.

“So, whether it’s the planning department, the engineering department, the municipal utilities agency, the redevelopment agency, it worked. That’s driven from the mayor’s office down.

“It started a long time ago. They decided, ‘We want to change our city.’ It went from a fairly impoverished city to a tremendously successful city. Like any city, there are still highs and lows, but no one can doubt that Jersey City has come a long way. And that’s from using the toolbox, using tax abatements, using PILOT programs.

“Some people will say, ‘It hurts you here, it hurts you there.’ If it weren’t for the PILOT programs, what you see would not be there today. It’s just a fact. This wouldn’t have happened. People would haven’t taken the risk. And they wouldn’t have invested the capital for really what is a low rate of return on the equity that they put in, but in the long term, the values have gone up, so people have benefited dramatically.”

McCann said Fulop has taken the city to new heights.

“A strong mayor leads from the top down and gets buy in from his different agencies to effectuate his plan,” he said. “Fulop obviously has been tremendously successful in getting people to invest off of the waterfront for the first time in a long time. He’s taken great strides to activate Journal Square.”

The ultimate step for the city may need more than just mayoral leadership, he said.

“If we can get light rail to the west side, I think that would catapult and just get that area going once and for all,” he said. “But, it’s tough.

“The state doesn’t have the money in and this would be a big state project. The city certainly wouldn’t have the resources to something like that. It would be a state investment to bring light rail to the, to the west side of Jersey City.”

The Summit: McCann calls the conference the premier real estate gathering in the metro area.

Topics include:

  • Jersey City over Brooklyn, Queens, Newark, West Side/Hudson Yards, FiDi, Philly and D.C.;
  • Opportunity zones;
  • Talent, culture, diversity and demographics: Attracting a sophisticated population with real alternatives;
  • Incentives, amenities, design and marketing strategies;
  • Live, work, play and learn;
  • Attracting new partners, institutions and investors;
  • Infrastructure improvements and transit-oriented development;
  • Demographic, location and cultural sweet-spot for millennials, creatives, techies and makers.

The speakers are a who’s who in real estate in the state, including numerous members of ROI-NJ’s 2018 Real Estate Influencers list.

McCann said the Summit will cover “the most cutting-edge topics in Jersey City, real estate development for the state and, in some sense, the region.”

To learn more about the event, click here.