Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Update on the Proposed New Hilton Hotel Downtown

Official release:

 
 
Dear friends and neighbors:  
Please click here or see below for the joint statement the City Council subcommittee for the proposed hotel, that I co-chair, issued earlier today concerning plans for the proposed new Hilton Hotel for Downtown Hoboken.  Here is some additional background and color about what has transpired over the past 18 months leading up to today.  
In April 2017 I sent you an email asking for your input on the proposed new Hotel being considered on the site of the parking lot behind the Post Office downtown (let me know if you want me to resend).  Of the approximate 60 people who responded, half were definite ‘yes’s’, 10% were definite ‘no’s’, and the rest were cautious yes’s that expressed concerns about shadows, parking and congestion.  Given your feedback (as I was on the fence due to height concerns), I was among the 7 yes votes for the original plan (2 dissenting votes including Councilmen Doyle and then Bhalla).  
In April 2018, the plan was effectively revised when Mayor Bhalla was elected to reduce the look and feel of the project to something he felt was more in line with the character of Hoboken, so the project reduced from 23 stories to 17 which he announced in April of this year and the City Council supported 8-1 (I was a yes given my personal height concerns).  Same overall square footage, just shorter and fatter.
Now.  After months of being told by the administration that the City Council would not be involved in negotiations, a week and a half ago, the administration briefed the City Council subcommittee for the Hotel (that I co-chair) about what they have negotiated with KMS, the developer, for the Hotel development.  And the City Council is expected to have to vote up or down, on the 17th.  
  • The good news – as part of the agreement with the developer, the developer has agreed to contribute $3M to Hoboken as a give back that will be paid over three years beginning 6 months after the Hotel opens.  
  • The less good news (to me) – but in exchange, the mayor has agreed to allow the hotel to be 20% bigger.  Taller – up three stories to 20 – and even fatter as the new proposal removes many of the setbacks that were a key feature in the plans to create an architecturally appealing building, and to support view corridors.  
  • And what I will characterize as both good and mixed news - is how the $3M is being allocated.  If it were me and only me deciding, given the scale of the project and the demands it will have on our infrastructure (think 300+ toilets and showers being used daily..) – combined with the significant infrastructure issues and capital investment the city is facing that total in the area of $70-100M (water mains, NW Park, Washington Street and more), I would have wanted to see the bulk of this money put into the city’s capital fund and directed specifically to help offset / fund these types of investment. But it is currently being earmarked as follows:  $1 million to the Hoboken Public Education Foundation, a non-profit that provides private, complementary funding for our public schools and $2 million to the non-profit who is in the beginning planning phase of restoring the former YMCA.  I 100% support both of these noble and great causes who do and plan to deliver benefits to many within our community.  But given the current challenges the city faces and the size of the give back - cant we spread the funds around?  Shouldn’t our charter schools who are also public schools receive some of the money if we are going to use these funds for educational purposes? Should we wait until the restoration of the YMCA is further along before we make such a large commitment?  Shouldn’t more – or any at all for that matter – be used for our infrastructure needs?  What about our affordable housing trust that has been depleted and not replenished over the years?  
I still have many questions, including just a general overall understanding of the economics of the project (which has not yet been provided).   Why $3M for example?  And we are all working together to see if we can make improvements to the overall project before we are being asked to vote on the 17th.  Unfortunately word is already out, and the community is already expressing concern about how the proposed $3M give back is being spent which is unfortunate and making for a strained public discussion.  But it was a discussion that needed to be had but until now was not encouraged.  
I know that a result of feedback and pressure from the City Council and members of our community, the mayor and the developer are already considering a possible increase to and expansion of the beneficiaries of the give back which is good news, so please keep this pressure on! Or start, if you havent already.... more voices are always better!  
I welcome any and all thoughts you may have regarding this proposal.  I will keep everyone updated over the next several days on where we land prior to the vote on the 17th.
As always, feel free to reach out if you want to discuss this further, or anything else, by email or by phone 201/208-1674.  And please forward this to anyone you think would benefit from hearing about this.  
 
TiffanieFisher
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
 
Engage. Inform. Advocate.
“More Voices are Better”
 


October 8, 2018


City Council Subcommittee Responds to Mayor's Proposed Changes to Hoboken Hilton Project 
 
Hoboken, NJ – 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.