Last night, Mayor Ravi Bhalla delivered his fourth State of the City address to the residents of Hoboken. The virtual address included the Mayor’s priorities for 2023, including the advancement of open space projects with flood resiliency upgrades, investing in Hoboken’s infrastructure and water main system, substantial improvements to the waterfront, and more. The priorities highlighted by Mayor Bhalla included:
- Launching a public planning process to design Maritime Park at the former Union Dry Dock site, beginning with a public meeting on April 4 at 6:30 p.m. at Hoboken High School
- Progressing on significant upgrades to Hoboken’s waterfront including the comprehensive redesign of Sinatra Drive between Fourth and 11th Streets, widening the public walkway at the Monarch waterfront site, and the rehabilitation of Weehawken Cove
- Investing in critical infrastructure upgrades including over 5,000 linear feet of new water mains, modern pressure sensors, and more
- Renovating historic Court Street to maintain its character and cobblestones without curtailing its accessibility, and launching an online survey at https://arcg.is/0yOva11
- Protecting Hoboken from both storm surge and rainfall flooding through the construction of Harborside Park as part of Rebuild by Design, along with opening the Northwest Resiliency Park this year, beginning construction on the expanded Southwest Resiliency Park, and creating a comprehensive design of a new park at 800 Monroe
- Increasing City services through new social workers and recreation programming to improve the quality of life for residents.
The full recording of Mayor Bhalla’s address can be viewed on Facebook or YouTube utilizing the links below.
Facebook Link: www.facebook.com/Hoboken
YouTube Link: www.youtube.com/channel/UCuHJTFpgS-twjCsDGHD52Gg
Mayor Bhalla’s fourth State of the City speech, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you for joining me tonight.
I am incredibly proud to deliver my fourth State of the City address to the residents of Hoboken.
Today’s speech is different from years past: after years that were defined, in many ways, by the Pandemic, the National Health Emergency is coming to an end. And, like our country, our City, too, is forever changed.
But we are getting back to normal, gathering, collaborating and living by our community values. We are coming back together: just look at the packed shows at Mile Square Theater, the high demand for a Saturday morning bagel from Hoboken Hot Bagels, or the line, wrapping around the block for those delicious cinnamon buns from The Hive!
What I learned over the last few years still remains true today: Hoboken is strong because Hoboken stands together.
And I can confidently tell you, without reservation, that the state of our beloved Mile Square is even stronger than a year ago, stronger than it has ever been, and continues to go from strength to strength.
More residents than ever before are choosing to call Hoboken home and set down roots. Our schools are thriving, with a 99% graduation rate from Hoboken High School and $17.4 million in high school academic scholarships, a clear signal that Hoboken continues to be one of the best places in New Jersey to raise a family. Our businesses are thriving with fewer vacancies and more locally owned businesses opening each week. Our streets and commercial corridors are bustling, filled with residents visiting our mom-and-pop shops.
But most of all, I judge the strength of our Mile Square from what I see each and every day in the hearts and souls of our residents. And what I see is grit, determination, strength, and pride. A renewed sense of pride in Hoboken. A pride that knows this is an incredibly special place to call home, and a city that only continues to grow stronger and more resilient by the day.
When we think about what makes our City so special, and why more people seek to call Hoboken home, or stay for the long-term, there are many reasons, a few of which I just mentioned. To me, Hoboken is a unique place to live largely because of our beautiful waterfront. My family, like many others, has enjoyed everything from birthday parties, morning walks and weekend bike rides along the Hudson River, taking in the beautiful scenery, fresh air, and open spaces; moments along our waterfront that we will cherish forever.
The waterfront has a personal place in my heart, like it does for so many; whether you live on the water or the west side, the waterfront belongs to all of us. No matter where you reside, no matter your means, no matter your age, everyone in our Mile Square can enjoy the views, fresh air, and parkland along our waterfront. That is why my administration has been laser focused on preserving and expanding our open spaces along the Hudson River.
And there has been no bigger fight for Hoboken throughout my five years as Mayor than the major, multi-generational fight to preserve the former Union Dry Dock property for public, open space. As I reported to you last year, Hoboken had finally turned a corner, and today, we are finally able to focus our attention on what we have been fighting for all along – the future park.
Make no mistake about it, this park will be designed by you, the residents of Hoboken. You will shape the amenities located at what we will be calling “Maritime Park,” in honor of the industrial history of Hoboken’s waterfront. That is why I am pleased to invite all of you to our first public meeting to hear directly from you about what you want to see on OUR waterfront. I hope you can join me, members of my administration, and Dattner Architects at our first community meeting on April 4th at 6:30 p.m. at Hoboken High School. I encourage you to come and help us envision the future public space to unlock the waterfront’s potential.
Having won the battle for the future of the site, once and for all, I do want to acknowledge that the acquisition did not just land in our lap, without sacrifices, including the temporary lease with New York Waterway. I completely understand, respect, and to a large extent, agree with many residents who wish that we did not have to allow New York Waterway to temporarily occupy the site. But I ask everyone to keep in mind the big picture: That we have absolute certainty, today, tomorrow, and beyond – that Hoboken will finally connect this missing piece of our waterfront with a park. And that a short-term sacrifice, in exchange for this absolute certainty – certainty that seemed unachievable just five years ago – is 100% worth it for current and future generations of residents.
While we remain focused on connecting the waterfront at Maritime Park, we have made major progress this year on another historic waterfront project, the revitalization of Sinatra Drive between Fourth and Eleventh Streets. Since last year’s State of the City speech when I announced this project, we have led a public process to create a final design that includes a protected bikeway, and also utilizes a segment of the former Union Dry Dock property. Our final design includes over 160 trees, plants, and green infrastructure to absorb rainwater, and Vision Zero pedestrian safety improvements, including 15 high-visibility crosswalks, 15 curb extensions, and 13 rapid flashing beacons. And, we are moving forward with this project, which we anticipate will break ground next year, in a fiscally prudent manner, utilizing $3 million in state and federal grants. I offer my thanks to all of you who participated in this important public planning process.
Our quality-of-life upgrades along our waterfront do not end there. In the next six months, we will officially put shovels in the ground on the highlight of our $330 million Rebuild by Design flood resiliency initiative – an improved and expanded Harborside Park at Fifteenth and Garden Streets. Over the past year, our partners in Governor Murphy’s administration – who awarded us an additional $100 million for the construction of this park – have worked with my administration to replace over 4,000 linear feet of our sewer system along Hudson Street and other areas near our waterfront. This aims to harden Hoboken to help prevent storm surge flooding from wreaking havoc on our lives and infrastructure, like it did during Superstorm Sandy.
I look forward to soon inviting you to the groundbreaking of this park, which will include above-ground amenities like an amphitheater, playground, dog park, and more.
We are also continuing with waterfront upgrades in Weehawken Cove, and finally eliminated the boat graveyard last year, removing 14 derelict and abandoned vessels. We are now focused on replacing a critical piece of the waterfront walkway in a state of disrepair adjacent to Sixteenth Street, installing new lighting, upgrading the bulkhead, and resetting pavers.
And we are going a step further to install a living shoreline in Weehawken Cove, made up of plants and other marine life, to increase biodiversity, restore the estuary’s ecosystem, and provide recreational activities. My vision for this cove is that it will not just provide recreational access for kayakers and other paddle sport enthusiasts, but also educational opportunities for our children to get hands-on experience with nature.
And, in the next few weeks, we will be expanding and upgrading more of the walkway along the uptown waterfront Monarch site, as opposed to the developer’s initial plan for a large-scale residential development. This follows substantial quality-of-life upgrades to our south waterfront on Sinatra Drive including new trees and plantings, a modern bike lane surface, and more.
Taken together, these waterfront revitalization initiatives are not just your run of the mill repairs and patchwork fixes. They represent generational, multi-faceted enhancements that have been decades in the making. When we look back years from now, I know that we will have done everything possible to make our waterfront an even more breathtaking place, that countless families and visitors will be able to fully enjoy for many years to come.
That said, these upgrades and resiliency projects are not just focused on the waterfront. As many of us have seen over the years, heavy rain events and flooding continue to impact our everyday quality of life. Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Henri, and more recently Hurricane Ida have all made it abundantly clear that these severe storms are occurring much more frequently. That is why we are advancing over 10 acres of resiliency parks that will help us mitigate the effects of heavy rain events that are only getting worse due to climate change.
Coming soon is the grand opening of our 5-acre Northwest Resiliency Park, which will become the shining example for the rest of the country, on designing a park with infrastructure, both above and below ground, to withhold up to two million gallons of rainwater. I am glad to report that we are in the final stages of the park construction, including the installation of a third flood pump, which will be fully complete by the beginning of the summer. And even before then, the multi-purpose turf field will open for recreational activities for the spring season, providing much-needed space for our recreation programs.
We are also progressing on the design for another 1.5-acre resiliency park at 800 Monroe, on a block that was previously slated for a large-scale residential building. I thank all of you who have already provided input through our first public engagement session and online survey, and I am pleased to invite you to our second planning session for this future park, taking place on April 13th at 6:30 p.m. at Hoboken High School.
Rounding out our open space initiatives include the expansion of the Southwest Resiliency Park, which will be able to detain an additional 300,000 gallons of rainwater. Since last year’s State of the City address, with your help, we have finalized the design which reflects your needs and includes pickleball courts, a basketball court, playground equipment, rain gardens, and other amenities. I am pleased to report that we will begin construction within the year, following approvals from the State Department of Environmental Protection.
When I came into office, my administration could have certainly rolled over, and allowed various types of development, as some had suggested, at virtually all of the open spaces I just mentioned. Some suggested we allow a developer to build apartments on a portion of the Northwest Resiliency Park. A 12-story building was planned at 800 Monroe. Another developer owned the site of the expanded Southwest Resiliency Park, and if given the opportunity, would have built on that site. Two 11-story buildings were slated to be built at the Monarch site. And as we all know, a permanent refueling station was planned for Union Dry Dock.
But, with your steadfast support, we withstood these major threats to our waterfront, and our open space initiatives. It wasn’t always easy, but we found creative solutions that prioritized quality of life for our residents, as opposed to developers and their bottom line. Our open spaces and waterfront are precious commodities in our beloved Mile Square, and they are worth protecting and fighting for. You have my commitment that I will always fight, tirelessly, on your behalf to create a stronger, more resilient City that prioritizes our waterfront and our open spaces, to make certain that Hoboken can continue to be a place that our children, and our children’s children, can be proud to call home.
And a City that is resilient, with a focus on open space development, does not mean Hoboken can’t, or shouldn’t ignore our untapped potential for smart, responsible growth. We are at an inflection point in Hoboken’s history, with areas in our North End, and on the edges of our Mile Square that, if developed appropriately, will likewise create lasting quality-of-life improvements.
That is why, earlier this year, my administration, in partnership with the City Council, adopted a redevelopment agreement that will create mixed use developments on three blocks adjacent to 930 Monroe, that will create an even more vibrant neighborhood in West Hoboken. Instead of an industrial Amazon warehouse, the agreement includes 47,000 square feet of commercial retail space, flood infrastructure to withhold 360,000 gallons of rainwater to mitigate flooding, new affordable housing units, and most importantly, up to $15 million to construct the resiliency park at 800 Monroe.
While this project will further revitalize West Hoboken, other projects, including the redevelopment of the Chambord and Neumann Leathers buildings, will provide even more commercial and retail space to neighborhoods in need of their vibrancy and services. The mixed-use development at the Chambord building will bring a much-needed supermarket to the area, while the Neumann Leathers project will provide an additional public plaza and courtyard spaces, among other amenities.
In the coming months, we will also be working to implement the Hoboken Terminal redevelopment agreement that will substantially revitalize our transportation hub and surrounding areas. In large part thanks to $176 million in funding from Governor Murphy and the State, Hoboken will soon see an open market and open spaces at Warrington Plaza, a brand-new bus terminal, new office and retail space, additional units of affordable housing, and more. Thanks to our partnership with the Murphy administration, as well as the City Council, we sat down at the table with all stakeholders and did not rest until this project – which was introduced in 2008 and languished for 15 years – was passed. And pass it did.
Last but certainly not least, my administration looks forward to working with the residents of the Hoboken Housing Authority to make progress on a redevelopment plan that will provide much-needed upgrades, rehabilitate current units, and create new units to help avoid displacement of our longtime residents. The Hoboken Housing Authority is home to many families who have called Hoboken home for generations, and you have my commitment that this project will incorporate feedback from all residents who wish to be heard. I encourage you to come to our community meeting on March 22nd, at 6 p.m. at 221 Jackson Street to provide your input for this important project.
Taken together, these redevelopment projects – with a focus on maximizing community givebacks such as open space funding and affordable housing, along with providing more required commercial and retail uses – will provide our residents with more locations to shop, dine, and play, with new, active commercial corridors that create more vibrant spaces. We only have one shot to get this right, to ensure that our untapped potential is realized and that our City can grow responsibly and at an appropriate scale. And I am fully confident that by working together, we will do just that.
Developing responsibly must also go hand in hand with infrastructure upgrades. As we all know, just a short time ago, a water main was punctured by an outside contractor which wreaked havoc on our community, an experience that has been all too common within our Mile Square.
Let me be clear – a water main system that is prone to breaks, and that threatens access to our drinking water is simply not something I will accept as your Mayor.
That’s why, during my second year in office back in 2019, we began allocating millions of dollars each year to upgrade our aging water mains. This came after over two decades of our system having zero – I’ll say it again – zero proactive upgrades by our system operator in over 23 years.
Now, after several years of these multi-million-dollar investments, we’ve seen more proactive replacements to our aging water main system than ever before in Hoboken’s history.
Here are the facts: within the next year, we will have installed nearly 5 miles of new water mains since 2018, and within the following 10 years, we have plans to replace another 5 miles – and nearly a quarter of the entire water main system.
And, just this year, we installed 15 new pressure sensors to help identify leaks and vulnerable areas – before they break.
These planned improvements represent important progress in upgrading our water main system, and let’s face it – it is a stark contrast from years past. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that you, the residents of Hoboken, have the quality of life that you deserve, with the infrastructure that you deserve. As your Mayor, this is my pledge to you.
While we are moving forward with exciting quality-of-life projects on our waterfront, park spaces, and redevelopment projects, we are also focused on making improvements to some of our other public spaces.
Part of the reason I fell in love with Hoboken so long ago is its historic character, reflected in the design of places like many of our homes and churches, and public spaces like Lackawanna Terminal, and Court Street. But, if we are being honest with each other – historic places like Court Street have seen far better days. This beautiful corridor needs to be restored to its former glory so that residents can once again walk down the historic road without twisting an ankle.
Tonight, we have launched the public planning process to tackle the first phase of this project by releasing an online survey to begin to gather your feedback. And, in the coming days we will have our first virtual public meeting so we can work together to renovate the existing historic road while maintaining its character and preserving the cobblestones.
While we are undertaking these substantial infrastructure upgrades, we are also making other quality-of-life improvements through our everyday work in City Hall, that will make a real difference for our community.
As you may remember, we reopened the Office of Constituent Services last year to better serve residents. This year, we are taking it a step further as we have hired two highly qualified social workers to join that office and to provide compassionate, and appropriate assistance to those experiencing homelessness, as well as food and housing insecurity. We are also improving Constituent Services in City Hall through the launch of our new “report-a-concern” platform within the SDL Citizen app, replacing the antiquated 311 system so that we can better respond to constituent concerns.
As we grow as a City, so must our offerings for a growing youth population. In my role as a Hoboken dad, I’ve been a regular spectator, and sometimes volunteer coach, for recreation activities including baseball, basketball, flag football, and more, so I hear it firsthand when things are going well, or, in some cases, need improvement. This year, our Division of Recreation is striving to meet those demands head-on by creating new programs like youth golf, co-ed volleyball, and, most recently, by seeking a vendor to expand our baseball fundamentals program, to get more of our children off the waiting list and out on the field.
Speaking of fields, I heard directly from several parents, that wish our softball programming could be improved. Well, I have heard that feedback loud and clear. That is why this year, the City will be upgrading Mama Johnson Field – the home of Hoboken’s rec softball leagues – in partnership with the Hoboken Housing Authority, to install bathrooms, construct a press box, and more. I look forward to breaking ground on this project this fall, so it is ready for next year’s season, so our girls can enjoy the same type of experience on the field as the boys.
As we wrap up here tonight, I want to once again express to you how grateful I am to be your Mayor. Serving you, the residents of Hoboken, has been the honor of a lifetime. But the real privilege of being Mayor is hearing the inspiring stories of perseverance, and the drive of so many of our residents who make a true, lasting difference in our communities.
I was recently contacted by a resident named Jennifer Wasser. In January of 2020, Jennifer got the call that would change her life’s trajectory – she was diagnosed with a rare, and severe form of bile duct cancer, only a short time after giving birth to her family’s first child, Monty. Just a few weeks before the pandemic shut down the rest of the country, Jennifer underwent surgery that ultimately saved her life.
Needless to say, Jennifer’s life was upended by circumstances she never could have seen coming. But, Jennifer pulled through, thanks to the unwavering strength of her friends and family. In the early days of the pandemic, her husband Matt constructed a garden box on their back patio, a precious commodity that afforded Jennifer a bit of outdoor comfort during those trying times. Jennifer has shared with me that their most precious memories of that time are in that tiny urban garden, holding her baby when she was strong enough, getting a Covid haircut, and harvesting veggies and flowers. Jennifer knew that when times are tough, home is where you enjoy tiny pleasures, and where you fight big battles. Home, she knew, is Hoboken.
Fast forward to today, Jennifer completed her successful chemotherapy treatments, and is three years cancer free. Jennifer is now using her time to raise awareness and funding for bile duct cancer, and as a part of this advocacy, we were proud to light up City Hall with the color green, as a part the light it up green campaign for Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month.
Jennifer’s story of turning tragedy into triumph and overcoming unimaginable adversity is truly a Hoboken story, and one that should inspire us all. Thank you, Jennifer, and all residents of Hoboken, through your everyday acts of kindness, compassion, and support for our greater Hoboken family, and for continuing to inspire me. Because by keeping that renewed sense of optimism in our city, in our community, and our neighbors, and the belief that our best days are still ahead of us, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish, together.
Thank you, good night, and I look forward to seeing you soon.