DOWNTOWN JERSEY CITY
"The sixth borough," as some call Jersey City, has long been thought of as an about-to-gentrify area, but the renaissance is now in full flower, with new waterfront apartment towers and offices and good restaurants on Newark Avenue and in the surrounding historic neighborhoods. Young couples are fixing up stunning mid-nineteenth-century brownstones and hopping on quick ferries to Manhattan that cost as little as $2. New statistics show Jersey City homeowners and landlords spent $129.1 million on rehab work on old buildings last year, up $40.1 million from 1998. There's good reason for that sort of investment in an area where neighbors sit on stoops and speak kindly to passersby on the sidewalk, where well-tended parks temper the urban grid. There are three marinas here, astounding Manhattan views, the Science Museum at Liberty State Park, hip watering holes near Exchange Place, and, for those who crave suburban pleasures, a multiplex and shopping mall at spiffy Newport Center Mall -- which has a Baby Gap, a Gap Kids, a regular Gap, and a Gap Men, along with some other non-Gap stores. There is also a new light-rail train that runs up the Hudson from Bayonne and will eventually reach Hoboken.
Prime areas: Classic brownstone blocks are near Hamilton Park and near the Grove Street path station. On the waterfront in the Newport section and a mile south on the grounds of the former Colgate-Palmolive factory, developers like the Lefrak Organization and Essex Waterfront are slapping up new rental and condo apartment towers for young Wall Streeters who want to look across the water at night at the office towers where they work all day long.
Wrong side of the tracks: Since most of the gentrification is coming from people who commute to and from Manhattan, home values are likely to stay lower and housing stock rougher anywhere out of walking distance from a path station or a ferry.
Commute to midtown: As little as ten minutes on the $1 path train and eight minutes on ferries that cost between $2 and $5 each way, from many points in Jersey City to landings in midtown and downtown Manhattan.
Public schools: For years, the best choices have been top-rated and competitive-entry private schools such as St. Peter's Prep, St. Dominick's Academy, and All Saints; or the well-regarded public McNair Academic High School. But the opening of charter schools like Elysian, Hoboken, and eight others in Jersey City proper has begun to draw middle-class families back to the public-school system.
Hot-button issues: Early-morning drivers looking for shortcuts to the Holland Tunnel entrance clog residential streets. Property taxes are high, roughly double the rates in New York City, but state funding for local projects is low.
Hotshot brokers: Amir Yehezkely of Century 21 Bright Star (201-604-2100), and Muriel Leyner (author Mark Leyner's mom) of Agresti Realty (201-420-9400).