The City of Elizabeth is unique for its population density and proximity to multimodal transportation hubs. With one of the busiest container ports in the world, stations on the Northeast Corridor, and proximity to Newark Liberty International Airport, Elizabeth is well-connected to the area’s transportation infrastructure. The Union County seat has two NJ TRANSIT rail stations: an express stop in the City’s downtown, and North Elizabeth, a local station located a mile to the north. The centrally-located Elizabeth Station is also served by a host of NJ TRANSIT bus routes—the 26, 48, 52, 56, 58, 59, 62, and 112. All stops are steps away from the rail stations, providing local connections.
The City, which served as the state’s first capital, is host to a large immigrant population. According to the 2015-2019 American Community Survey, nearly half of Elizabeth’s population was born outside the U.S. and 65 percent of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino. With its large immigrant population and 30-minute commute to New York City, the municipality might be best characterized as a gateway city—both as a settlement location and in the way that the Brookings Institution and Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) have used the term to describe a midsized urban center with strong, often underutilized infrastructural assets. But Elizabeth, designated as a New Jersey Transit Village since 2007, has been slowly growing in transit-oriented developments (TODs) as developers realize the area’s strong potential.
Renovation of the Elizabeth Station began in 2019. The project, estimated to cost about $71 million, will lengthen high-level platforms to increase passenger capacity, and add climate-controlled platform shelters, ADA-compliant elevators and ramps, and elements supported by the agency’s Transit Arts program, which integrates artwork into the design of its facilities. The three-year construction project will also include new station buildings adjacent to both platforms, updated, dynamic signage for passengers, additional security elements, and a restored plaza area and pedestrian overpass. NJ TRANSIT coordinated the project’s platform designs with Amtrak; the national passenger rail operator plans to someday add a fifth track to the Northeast Corridor.
Additionally, a draft plan from the Elizabeth Development Company’s Midtown Revitalization Plan includes a proposal to transform the southern side of the station into a plaza. Through eminent domain, three properties would be cleared for the construction of a new plaza that would improve queuing for bus travelers and add event space to the area. Five NJ TRANSIT bus routes currently serve the Elizabeth Arch stop, at the corner of Grand and Broad Streets. This concept, included in the City’s Midtown Revitalization Plan, was supported by a Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP) grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
Elizabeth has the opportunity to build upon existing mixed-use development and address a patchwork of distressed lots near the NJ TRANSIT station. Several census tracts near the Northeast Corridor in Elizabeth qualify for state and federal reinvestment programs, such as Opportunity Zones and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
One new development, the Vinty, is situated at the corner of Union and West Grant Streets, occupying a former industrial lot that was cleared in 2013 by the City of Elizabeth through the use of eminent domain. For the Vinty project, the City granted MAS Development, led by Elizabeth native Sal Garcia a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement, a common redevelopment tool used in the state. Typically, under such an agreement, a developer pays a yearly fee to a municipality, often for a set term of 30 years. The Vinty project’s PILOT agreement also obliges the developer to build and maintain a one-acre public park along the nearby Elizabeth River, which will connect to the Elizabeth River Trail. The 267-unit, market rate complex is expected to be completed in December 2021.
Additionally, in October 2021, the Planning Board approved a proposal to build a five-story, mixed-use building at 1166-1236 East Broad Street, comprising 200 units. This development, situated in Elizabeth’s East Broadway Redevelopment Plan Area, provides convenient access to Elizabeth Station via a five-minute walk on Broad Street.
The Planning Board is currently considering several development projects near the North Elizabeth Station, that offers less frequent rail service than Elizabeth Station. Current developer proposals, totaling nearly 700 new units, signal strong interest in TODs for this station area.
Elizabeth, with valuable transportation infrastructure and a walkable urban core, may soon see a renaissance with the completion of the renovated Elizabeth Station. As Elizabeth looks to revitalize and expand its tax base, a combination of government incentives, developer interest, and strong transit connections are likely to catalyze a new wave of growth in the well-connected Transit Village.
City of Elizabeth. (2021, June 14). Midtown: Redevelopment Plan. City of Elizabeth. https://www.elizabethnj.org/DocumentCenter/View/2883/2021-06-16—Amended-Midtown-Elizabeth-Redevelopment-Plan
New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. (2021). New Jersey Community Asset Map. New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. https://njdca.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=96ec274c50a34890b23263f101e4ad9b