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The Boston Globe

Banking on New Jersey
Displaced Manhattan Firms Dig in Across the Hudson

By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff

October 1, 2001

JERSEY CITY - Beginning at 3:30 one recent weekday afternoon, drivers in black Lincoln Town Cars started pulling alongside one of the tallest office buildings around. One by one, some of New York's financial executives hustled out in their snappy dark suits and hopped into the waiting limos.

For the past several years, Jersey City has been trying to lure financial firms from Wall Street across the Hudson River to a new office center that local boosters have dubbed ''Wall Street West.'' Now, some New York firms have come, though not entirely by choice and perhaps not permanently.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, at least 10 major financial institutions have made the move because their office buildings in Lower Manhattan were damaged or destroyed. Other firms have also shifted to Jersey City's neighboring municipalities, including Paterson and Newark. In all, 10,200 employees have been relocated to northern New Jersey, where 2.6 million square feet of commercial office space has been snapped up in the last three weeks, according to real estate specialists.

The Wall Street diaspora has swiftly transformed Jersey City's young but thriving financial district into a bustling hub where workers jam mass transit and form long, snaking lines at Au Bon Pain, the office center's most popular and classiest lunch spot.

''We are glad to be here, but I would prefer to be in Manhattan,'' said Demitry Glozman, a Lehman Brothers employee who stood the other day on Jersey City's waterfront gazing at Manhattan's battered skyline. ''It used to be important to be over there, to be in Midtown. I would have never wanted to be in New Jersey, but I know it's temporary.''

As financial firms such as Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers emphasize they have every intention of returning to New York, some employees and industry specialists question whether these companies so famous for their Manhattan addresses will want to leave New Jersey in the end.

''What companies are saying and doing are two different things. Meanwhile, they are leaving'' New York, said M. Myers Mermel, a New York real estate broker who has been tracking the exodus.

''This has the potential of diminishing New York's status as a financial center of the world,'' Mermel said.

Now, one big question is this: If the companies do remain in northern Jersey permanently, are Jersey City and other cities ready to be prime-time hosts?

Some local officials are not sure Jersey City can keep providing the services demanded by a high-paid work force over the long term.

''It's been hard. We are working with minimal capacity. We can deal with a small incident but nothing major,'' said Jose Cruz, deputy director of the Jersey City Fire Department.

Virtually overnight, the city has seen booming demand for mass transportation, real estate, telephone and electrical connections, as well as fire services.

The lunch lines swell at noon, and by the end of the day, the streets are filled with executive cars and chartered tour buses that carry workers all of four blocks to the subway station.

Prior to the attacks, 31,000 commuters used the NY Waterway ferry service daily. Now, ridership has increased by almost two-thirds, to 50,000 commuting along the Hudson River, according to Lisa Hermann, a NY Waterway spokeswoman.

Cruz said the demand for public services is draining the small department of 560 firefighters, who have struggled to respond to daily bomb threats.

Jersey City police have been stretched thin, too. Police officers are stationed at 60 additional posts, and more than twice as many officers are patrolling the streets, according to Edgar Martinez, deputy police director.

But others, such as Jeff Warsh, executive director of New Jersey Transit, said the state can handle the migration west from Manhattan, although he and top state officials are careful not to sound opportunistic during a time of crisis.

''It's amazing, but we've been handling it already,'' Warsh said.

In fact, Jersey City, with 240,000 residents the state's second-largest city, was like an extension of ground zero shortly after the attacks. More than 120,000 evacuees from New York were ferried to the city's bay. A new, sleek marble building owned by a high-tech company, soon to hold hundreds of Lehman Brothers employees, temporarily served as a police command post. The mayor's office scrambled to cut red tape so that companies could relocate immediately.

And, Warsh approved adding two cars to light-rail trains, which have been packed during the morning rush hour.

Before the attacks, Lehman Brothers, American Express, and other companies had moved parts of their New York operations to Jersey City, where commercial real estate costs about 30 percent less. Goldman Sachs Inc. is currently building a $450 million skyscraper in Jersey City's financial district.

Mermel, the real estate broker, said the previous moves began in the 1990s and make it likely many companies won't return to New York, potentially costing the city 140,000 jobs.

Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Merrill Lynch, said one of its buildings in the World Financial Center suffered some damage but 90 percent of its employees have been relocated to other company offices in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut. He said thousands of employees were already in New Jersey, but he didn't know exactly how many more were relocated after Sept. 11.

But, he added: "Let me make crystal clear our full commitment to remaining in Manhattan."

For the time being at least, there are a lot more people working in northern Jersey.

''It's never been this busy. You notice it during lunch time,'' said Mike Gravelle, who works in Jersey City's shipping industry.

And it is at lunchtime that one of the city's shortcomings becomes evident to a work force accustomed to expense-account meals in Manhattan's fancier restaurants.

Au Bon Pain, with its simple if tasty array of soups and sandwiches, may not be much of a consolation. There is an array of diners and delis along the street and one fancy cafe that sells sushi, but the dining choices are nothing compared with the choices of restaurants available in Manhattan.

''There's not many food options,'' said Richard Miller of Merrill Lynch. ''You have the cafeteria or this,'' he said, pointing to Au Bon Pain.

An American Express employee, who didn't want his name used because his company had asked employees not to speak to the media, said the additional traffic on the road has given him headaches. ''Now, I spend 41/2 hours going back and forth to work,'' he said.

So far, those differences have been a relatively minor source of dissatisfaction. Employees who have been relocated to New Jersey emphasize they are thankful to be alive and to have a job.

Many can't seem to stay away from the bay, with its view of the smoky Manhattan skyline and the damaged office buildings they occupied not long ago.

"That's where we worked," said Ryan Roy, 23, a Lehman Brothers employee.

Roy said he had loved working in the world's financial capital, as would any young man right out of college.

"It's not the same," he said.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/1/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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