Monday, October 8, 2018

City Council Subcommittee responds to proposed changes on Hilton Hotel project

Official release:

City Council Subcommittee Responds to Mayor's Proposed Changes to Hoboken Hilton Project 

The Hoboken City Council subcommittee, tasked with evaluating the proposed Hilton Hotel project, was briefed for the first time recently with the revised plans for the hotel that have tentatively been agreed by Mayor Bhalla and KMS, the developer.  The modifications include changing the overall architectural feel of the project by adding three more stories to the plan that the mayor announced in April and 20% more bulk and square footage than what was previously approved in 2017 by the City Council which the mayor (then councilman) opposed.  In exchange for this increase, KMS will provide $3 million in cash to Hoboken for community benefits which currently have been earmarked by the mayor to two, private non-profits.  The mayor is expected to ask the City Council to approve these changes at the October 17th meeting.  Although the members of the subcommittee each individually support the efforts of the selected non-profits, they are issuing this joint statement in regards to their concerns.   

“The City Council subcommittee has long advocated for and remains in support of a hotel development that brings tax revenue, job creation, economic development and vibrancy to Hoboken while respecting neighborhood and community concerns.   However, our city's infrastructure issues are front page news, our main street has suffered from under investment and management, and our low and moderate income residents are being displaced every day.  It is critical that major development projects like this are both sensitive to the surrounding environments and provide benefits and relief to these issues which the Mayor’s proposal fails to do.  The subcommittee is committed to working together with all stakeholders to address and overcome these challenges.”  

Mayor Bhalla’s proposal falls short of these needs by limiting the allocation of the $3 million to two private foundations:  $1 million to fund the endowment for the Hoboken Public Education Foundation (“HPEF”) which raises private money to invest in our public schools, and $2 million to the Hoboken Community Center (“HCC”), for the potential restoration of the former YMCA.  These are both great organizations that benefit the community, but given the size of the community benefit fee of $3 million, the subcommittee has questions about the narrow focus of these large contributions, the lack of any public process, the fact that the use of the funds will not be directed by any elected officials (mayor, school board or City Council), and that offsets to the myriad of near-term financial commitments to be paid by taxpayers were not considered.

The subcommittee recommends broadening the scope of the $3 million while still including both HPEF and HCC as recipients by:  supporting the education mandate but expand to include all public schools including charter schools; allocating a significant amount into the city’s Capital Fund and dedicate those funds specifically for planned infrastructure improvements and other large scale capital projects like the Multi Service Center, Northwest Park and the proposed HCC when their plans are finalized; and contributing to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund which has been underfunded for years.  Additionally, the City Council requests KMS to contribute $75,000 directly to HCC at the onset of construction (expected to be in early 2019), as opposed to after the hotel opens in ~2-3 years, so that HCC can fund its much needed feasibility study as soon as possible.   

“As many know, the mayor has already communicated with each HPEF and HCC about his proposed contributions which has already made for a strained and divided community dialogue.  It is unfortunate that he chose a path of excluding both the governing body, who will need to vote on the proposal, and the public in this critical decision for our community.  This is a bad precedent for Hoboken that the City Council hopes to make better by encouraging public input.”

The full City Council will convene on Wednesday October 17th to hear the issue.