Mayor Bhalla Updates Public on Proposed Uptown Municipal Complex/Rec Center

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla sent out an email blast yesterday updating residents on the city’s proposed, uptown municipal complex and recreation center, the property site currently owned by Charles Poggi.

Here is the Mayor’s communication:

 
Below is an update from Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla to the Hoboken public on the proposed Municipal Complex and Recreation Center: 

As residents may know, my administration is committed to following through on a new municipal complex and recreation center in our North End. We are continuing to negotiate in good faith with the property owner, Charles Poggi, and his team through open dialogue and communication. While utilizing eminent domain to acquire the property remains an option, I am hopeful for an amicable resolution, so we can build the new complex and recreation center in partnership with Mr. Poggi. I want to sincerely thank Mr. Poggi and his team for their efforts to this end, including the access agreement on tonight’s Council agenda signed by him and myself.

I write to provide an update to the public on the municipal complex and recreation center, given the critical importance of constructing a new DPW garage in a timely fashion.

Largest percentage of residents prefer a complex with a pool and recreation amenities

As you may have seen, in the most recent public survey that was provided to the Hoboken public, 92% of respondents indicated a preference for one of the four options presented, with the largest majority of residents (41%) expressing a preference for a complex that includes a DPW garage, public safety facilities, civic center, pool (that is proposed to now include a retractable roof), recreation center, and fieldhouse. Notably, only eight percent of respondents preferred none of the alternatives presented. Over 1,000 people participated in the survey, an amount that provides statistical significance to the results, and an overwhelming majority support the project. I appreciate all those who took the time to provide their feedback so that we can create a complex that suits our current and future needs.

As I am sure many residents know, our recreation spaces across the City can not meet the current demand. Some of our recreation teams can not even get gym time to practice once a week. This has been a sore point of our programming with parents and seniors alike. This complex will help address the need and provide for new and expanded recreation opportunities for residents, such as senior aquatics.

Due to City Council inaction, a temporary garage may become necessary at a cost of over $1 million

As a reminder, in the once-in-a-lifetime Monarch settlement approved by the City Council, the City provided certain development rights that remain in-scale with the surrounding neighborhood to Ironstate for the current DPW garage at 256 Observer Highway. Again, this was, in my view, a necessary sacrifice so Hoboken could take over the waterfront Monarch property and 800 Monroe for public open space, an opportunity that we may have never had again if we did not act. It can’t be overstated how much of a win for Hoboken it was, in particular, to take over the Monarch site connecting one of the final pieces of our contiguous waterfront, as opposed to two large-scale, private residential waterfront buildings.

In our efforts to relocate the DPW garage from 256 Observer Highway by 2024, as required due to the terms of the Monarch settlement, the City Council expressed concerns about locating the DPW garage at the property owned by Bijou Properties in the North End, located at 1500 Clinton Street. As a result, the City quickly pivoted to one of the only other logical parcels of land in the North End, the property previously utilized by Mr. Poggi’s business.

Although a five-member majority of the City Council (Councilmembers Russo, Doyle, Jabbour, Quintero, and Cohen) have voted multiple times to support the acquisition of the Poggi property, including voting to authorize condemnation if necessary, none of the other four Councilmembers have authorized a bond as a final step in this process (a bond needs six votes from the nine body City Council), despite knowing the critical deadline spelled out in the Monarch settlement of vacating our current garage by 2024.

To be straightforward, the City will not be able to maintain basic City functions – snow plowing, street cleaning, etc. – without a DPW garage to support these operations. As a result of this continued reluctance by any four remaining members of the City Council (Defusco, Ramos, Fisher, and Giattino) to provide full authorization to move forward with a bond for this site, the City may very well end up having to utilize other City property, such as at the North Lot (adjacent to the Northwest Resiliency Park), 201 Marshall Street, the Monarch site, or other public land for the construction of a temporary garage and other DPW operations. This temporary garage could cost over $1 million to construct at one or multiple of those sites, which would come at the taxpayer’s expense. A temporary garage at the North Lot would also result in the City losing parking revenue as the lot has customers in it, which would further impact a source of current revenue. I want to be clear that this could very well be avoided if one City Council member (DeFusco, Ramos, Fisher, or Giattino) provided the authorization to the City to bond for the acquisition of the property.

To date, none of the four Council members who have expressed opposition to this project have provided my office or staff with viable alternatives to the proposed municipal complex and recreation center. Several have not engaged at all and have not even attended one public meeting on the proposal. To be clear, doing nothing could jeopardize the City’s DPW operations and delay the creation of modern public safety facilities, a new recreation center, and pool, that have been sorely needed for years. On top of that, this delay could force an additional $1 million of construction costs for a temporary DPW garage on the backs of taxpayers.

This, to me, is unacceptable, and our residents don’t deserve to have a minority of the City Council purposefully obstruct a project that, if built, will provide a major benefit to current and future generations of Hoboken residents for years to come.

Addressing various concerns from Councilmembers

I want to address some of the various concerns that have been expressed in various forums by certain Council members. First, Council member DeFusco expressed a desire for a shared services agreement with Weehawken Township, in Weehawken, for public works, including emergency responses. Unfortunately, this scenario is not realistic as equipment like snowplows and flood barricades would be located outside of Hoboken, and it would jeopardize emergency response times in the case of a major weather event, with emergency vehicles having to travel over the Park or Willow Avenue bridges into Hoboken. This complex, in my opinion, should be built in Hoboken.

Additionally, Councilman Ramos expressed a strong desire for “developers to pay for” the municipal complex. Already, a proposal was offered to the City for the development of three 17-story buildings at the Poggi property by a developer in “exchange” for the City’s right to build a public works garage, which would be built at the taxpayer’s expense. While this level of development is apparently appealing to Councilman Ramos, this massive overdevelopment proposal was an absolute non-starter for me, and as a result, the two negotiating parties pivoted to other options. Further, the City already proposes utilizing developer funds to offset the cost of the project.

Additionally, at least one Council member has made the claim that the new complex and recreation center would be inconsistent with the parameters of the North End Redevelopment Plan. I can confirm that this is not true, as the complex and recreation center would be in scale with, and at a lower height than permitted in the plan.

Various Council members have also questioned the need to include a new public safety facility that would house the Hoboken Police Department and Hoboken Fire Department within the municipal complex. As has been stated in a previous communication, the current building housing the police headquarters was built in the 1960s, was designed as a medical office and is no longer equipped to house a modern police department. Likewise, the Hoboken Fire Department’s headquarters is over a century in age, and was originally designed to accommodate horse and buggy carriages. Over the last decade, Hoboken has grown over 20%, with both departments unable to implement the appropriate technology to efficiently meet the needs of our City. Including new police and fire headquarters in this complex will end up saving taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run from having to separately rebuild these facilities at current or different locations. As it is, we’re spending millions of dollars over several years on emergency repairs to the police and fire headquarters, a rate that is unsustainable and burdens the taxpayers in the long run without the benefit of new facilities.

I encourage anyone who did not participate in the community meeting hosted by Public Safety Director Ken Ferrante, Police Chief Steve Aguiar, and Fire Chief Anton Peskens that discusses this very topic, to view it online to understand this need in more detail by clicking here.

Exploring other financing options to advance the project

My administration will continue to work diligently to advance this project and engage our elected officials and stakeholders at the federal, state, and county levels to utilize alternative funding options. Financing for construction of the project will prioritize private and grant funding to minimize taxpayer expense to the greatest extent possible, even if bonding at the local level is not authorized with six votes from the nine-member Council body. One way or another, this project will proceed forward, and I ask all nine members of the City Council to engage with my office on this process, so we can work collaboratively to achieve this goal and address any legitimate concerns.

Thank you to residents

I want to sincerely thank the many residents who have come out to our five public meetings and information sessions on this project and participated in our public surveys. The feedback has been invaluable, and we will continue to engage residents and stakeholders as we move forward. I also greatly appreciate the partnership with the Hoboken Police Department, Hoboken Fire Department, Hoboken Public Library, and hearing from members of our Department of Environmental Services, all of whom are excited about the potential for this project to advance.

Sincerely,

Ravi S. Bhalla
Mayor