Many adjectives have been ascribed to Jim Vance: energetic, enthusiastic, zealous, gregarious, magnanimous, loquacious. Oh, and sometimes abrasive, confrontational and loud — truly a Hoboken character, Jim has always been civic-minded, especially concerned with the environment and good planning principles. He is also a born salesman.
Jim brought all of these qualities to the Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) when he joined its Board of Directors in 2002. Two years later, he became the Board’s Chair, a position he held for the next 17 years.
If there was a job to tackle, he jumped in with full force. He relished collecting signatures on a petition, tapping into his many personal connections, and recruiting people to attend an event. He became FBW’s most generous benefactor, donating heftily both financially and with his time. Under Jim’s leadership, FBW has been able to survive decades of ups and downs, including at times financial straits and political storms.
In 2018, Jim changed the course of the battle with NY Waterway when he filed an OPRA request with NJ Transit that exposed a 2009 study done by the state agency. The previously undisclosed document identified five Hudson River/NY Harbor sites as more favorable than Union Dry Dock (UDD) for locating a ferry refueling/repair facility, including the Hoboken Terminal, just a half mile downriver from UDD. In 2012, Jim was instrumental in bringing in a landscape architect to solve a thorny problem with the City’s design for the soccer field at 1600 Park Avenue. A proposed retaining wall, above one’s head, would have had people at street level staring at a blank wall rather than the playing field. Jim also objected to a banal proposal for the pump station on Observer Highway, successfully insisting that a creative architect be brought in to execute the exceptional design we see today. These are just some examples of Jim’s many contributions to the City of Hoboken and FBW through the years.
So this year, FBW will honor Jim with its Tenth Annual Riparian Award, acknowledging his tireless work on behalf of the Hudson River waterfront. The Award will be presented by FBW’s architect and urban planner for the past 30 years, Craig Whitaker at the November 11, 2021 Connect the Waterfront gala.
Jim had a long, lucrative career selling pre-owned business jets beginning in 1977. Ten years later he partnered with Rick Engles, forming Vance & Engles Aircraft Brokers. He retired in 2008, allowing him to spend more time on his civic passions. Jim can often be found pruning the trees throughout his neighborhood, hosting backyard picnics for his tenants and neighbors (pre-pandemic), in conversation with developers about property frontage design, and cycling the 17 miles between Hoboken and Manhattan. He can also often be seen zipping down the streets of Hoboken on his Brompton fold-up bike. Jim doesn’t own a car and will be the first to tell you that you don’t need a car to live in Hoboken. When leaving town, Jim typically prefers Amtrak to any other mode of travel.