2000-01-22 / Front Page

Peak Into Rockaway's Future?

Amboy's Success Story Brings Hope

Waterfront in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was developed under federal funds.

A ferry slip was constructed with state and federal monies.

By John McLoughlin

Perth Amboy was once a busy city with one of the finest harbors in New Jersey. Industry and trade fueled the economy of the city, until it fell victim to urban blight in the 1960s. There was a loss of industry, the boat basin was closed, the former naval armory became a haven for pigeons, and an old decaying barge occupied the shoreline, which was gradually being eaten away by nor'easters. The historic ferry slip, which had run for nearly three centuries, became a home to a few neighborhood cats and business was fleeing at an amazing pace.

The situation in Perth Amboy, which is located near the Outerbridge Crossing, was ignored, and conditions worsened. The business district was an eyesore by the early 1990s and the waterfront was nothing more than a passing point.

In July, 1990 things began to change. Joseph Vas was elected mayor of Perth Amboy and took to the task of turning the city around. Mayor Vas realized that Per Amboy's revitalization would rely heavily on his ability to capitalize on the city's fundamental assets. It was then that the city realized its key asset, the jewel in its historic crown--its waterfront.

Perth Amboy's waterfront got the boost it needed thanks to the federal government. In 1998, congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, better known as TEA-21. The bill makes available some $200 billion to states to do everything from create new bike paths to pave highways to slap a new coat of paint on aging bridges. And to reduce the congestion of cars on roads and bridges, TEA-21 provides money for funding of ferries.

The city applied for the TEA-21 money and received more than $6 million to construct a marina, harborwalk and ferry slip.

The federal government also awarded Perth Amboy a $2 million Senate Appropriations Grant for the demolition, environmental evaluation and clean-up of abandoned properties. A vacant factory was demolished under this grant and plans are underway for a state-of-the-art Vocational-Technical High School with advanced quasi-college courses.

"By partnering and taking advantage of available funding, the city has been able to turn its natural resources into precious commodities," Mayor Vas said. He added, "Our vision is to transform this area into a cultural haven with a shopping promenade for tourist and resident enjoyment, a performing arts center, a museum, a combined hotel/office building, boutiques and eateries. All this, along with an expanded marina, ferry service and a pedestrian walkway, will afford a perfect location to develop tourism."

JoAnn Ghiglitotty, assistant to the mayor, said the city lured back businesses under the Urban Enterprise Zone Program, a state initiative. Mayor Vas lobbied New Jersey to be included in this program, which allows the city to give tax incentives, grants to business owners for storefront/façade improvements, creation of an additional 230 free parking spaces for commuters, shoppers and merchants, and additional decorative lighting, ornamental benches and trash receptacles.

Residents and elected officials of Perth Amboy envision the city having a sports complex, possibly to house a minor league sports team, an executive golf course and driving range, outlet shopping, a high technology business district, and an industrial park.

Mayor Vas' mantra--"if it can be imagined, it can be done"--lends some insight into the future of Perth Amboy. It should also lend some insight into the endless possibilities for Rockaway.

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