Tuesday, October 9, 2018

City: Mayor Bhalla Announces $4.5 Million in Community Givebacks From Hotel Developer

Official release:

Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla announced on Tuesday an agreement with the City of Hoboken and KMS Development Partners regarding plans to develop a hotel in Hoboken.

As part of the agreement, KMS Development Partners will make $4.5 million investments into the Hoboken community and have committed to various pro-Hoboken staffing and operational priorities.

“These community give-backs are real progress for our City,” said Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla. “It is my intention that this agreement shall serve as a model for all future deals. I am putting developers on notice: if you want the opportunity to do business in our City, we expect union labor and we expect generous community give-backs.”

Community givebacks include $1 million in road and infrastructure upgrades, a $1 million endowment for the Hoboken Public Education Foundation to support the public school system, $100,000 to each of Hoboken’s three charter Schools, $200,000 for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and $2 million to go towards revitalizing the Hoboken Community Center. The vision for the Center includes re-opening the public pool and providing space to expand the district’s pre-K program, which currently has a wait list, and open the uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library.

“The Hoboken Board of Education expresses appreciation to the City of Hoboken for keeping our students in mind during the negotiations that resulted in this agreement,” said Board of Education Vice President Sharyn Angley. “We are grateful that the steering committee of the Hoboken Community Center recognizes the long-term significance of early childhood education in our community and we look forward to working together. Lastly, we applaud and thank KMS Development Partners for their generosity towards the Hoboken Public Education Foundation and its long-term commitment to the vitality of our Hoboken Community.”

Furthermore, all hotel jobs, from construction to operation, will be union jobs with Hoboken residents receiving hiring preference. The hotel is projected to employ about 170 people, once operational, create an additional 280 jobs in the community, and add $5 million to the local economy per year.

"As the union for hotel workers, the Hotel Trades Council is extremely proud to support this hotel and this redevelopment plan,” said Rich Maroko, Vice President of the Hotel Trades Union. “This hotel, in addition to being a fantastic new amenity for Hoboken residents and visitors, will be a source of many high quality, permanent jobs in this community.”

“As Mayor, I am committed to economic development that benefits not only the business owners but also provides good, living-wage jobs for all workers,” said Bhalla. “Union labor is the backbone of the nation’s economy, Hoboken’s success was built by union workers, and we will not forget where we come from. As a part of this redevelopment agreement, I have made sure that a portion of future hotel, unionized jobs, be set aside for Hoboken residents because our residents deserve the opportunity to work for wages that can support themselves and their families.”

Additionally, the rooftop bar, with views of the Manhattan skyline, will be open to the public no less than 300 days per year.

The agreement will now go before the Hoboken City Council for approval on October 17.

BoE President Tom Kleupfel and BoE trustee Sharyn Angley (l) attended the announcement for the revised Hilton Hotel development for downtown in Hoboken outside the former Y on Washington Street.

Talking Ed Note: There are additional details in the earlier revised Hilton Hotel project announcement regarding how monies are directed for education and a community center. In a release today, City Council members of the subcommittee issued the following statement:

"We are happy to see that collaboration with the mayor and the developer has resulted in a 50% increase in the community give back to $4.5 million and that the scope has been expanded to include critical infrastructure, affordable housing, and charter schools.  Additionally, KMS also committed today to fund immediately the much-needed feasibility study to officially launch the restoration project for the former YMCA so that it can be shovel-ready when the remainder of the give back is paid after the hotel opens.  This is what is possible when our city works together." 

Scramble for transparency: Hoboken non-profits brawl after being left out of Hilton Hotel expansion

Today's announcement outside the former Y on upper Washington St. is being celebrated by those who were part of the original plan to directly benefit from a $3 million giveback in exchange for a bigger and denser Hoboken Hilton downtown.

Over the last few days, word of the three million proposed allocations left many angered for being ignored altogether in the non-transparent process and or scrambling to be included.

The initial restructured $3 million in community givebacks, two toward a revamped community center and another million for the Hoboken school district set off a firestorm among Mile Square non-profits and others. Details of how these seven-figure funds will be utilized are unclear at the moment. There doesn't appear to be any business plan or model detailing how the monies will be utilized.

Overnight, the community benefits have suddenly mushroomed to over $4 million with the charter schools and local infrastructure getting a taste.

The full details and how this is intended to work awaits complete release and review. Yesterday, the Hudson County View covered the emerging firestorm when word began hitting the streets over the weekend and reported the pressure mounting from the public through the City Council subcommittee.

"“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.”

Talking Ed Note: How and why another million materialized almost literally overnight says much about the lack of transparency in this process and the political ambition in controlling it. The City Council is familiar with this behavior out of the mayor's office but the wider Hoboken community just got a taste.

Councilman DeFusco Pleased with New Hotel Giveback Agreement, Disappointed in Overall Investment to Infrastructure

Official release:

Councilman DeFusco Pleased with New Hotel Giveback Agreement, Disappointed in Overall Investment to Infrastructure

DeFusco: Advocacy by Residents, City Council Leads to Improved Outcome for Hoboken
Councilman Mike DeFusco is releasing the following statement on a new agreement announced today between the City of Hoboken and KMS Development, the firm building the new Hilton hotel on River Street. The giveback agreement now includes $1,000,000 for infrastructure improvements for the local neighborhood, a priority that Councilman DeFusco led the charge for, as well as funding for affordable housing and charter schools. Councilman DeFusco is the Co-chair of the Council Development Subcommittee as well as the ward representative of the district where the hotel will be built.

"Mayor Bhalla's decision to announce allocations of redeveloper “givebacks” from the hotel project to organizations he hand-picked before a plan was agreed on was certainly unusual, and this led to a significant public outcry from residents and members of the City Council who were not satisfied with the proposal. After two weeks of exhaustive discussions with all stakeholders, I am pleased the Mayor has taken the advice of the Council and changed course to include funding in the allocation for our neighborhood's infrastructure, which as we all know is at a breaking point. In no small part due to the Council Commitee's advocacy we've seen the developer's financial contribution to the City increase by 50 percent, adding $1.5 million over the last few days of negotiations. I am proud to have represented my ward and downtown Hoboken in a way that ensures our neighborhood is developed with corresponding investments for our quality of life.

I am however greatly disappointed that infrastructure funds dedicated to mitigating the impact of this project were not more substantial. It's difficult to square Mayor Bhalla's heated rhetoric about our poor water infrastructure just a few short weeks ago with this current redevelopment agreement, which adds nearly 350 new rooms to half a city block, but only puts $1 million towards infrastructure.    I have long been a proponent of this hotel project because of the positive impact it will have on our tax base and vibrancy in the First Ward, and with this new agreement on givebacks, I believe we have reached a more balanced development. Despite the concerns I have regarding the disproportionate investment in infrastructure, I will be supporting the amended agreement."

City announces revised Hotel Hilton deal, 3 stories higher, 20% more density and $4 million to non-profits

Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced a larger downtown hotel with $4 million for local non-profits in exchange for three additional stories and 20% more density. The details were not fully announced as Mayor Bhalla apologized at the end and the full details are forthcoming.

Freeholder Anthony Romano (not pictured) attended along with City Council Vice President Jen Giattino, council members Tiffanie Fisher, Emily Jabbour and BoE trustees Sheillah Dallara, Chetali Khanna and BoE President Tom Kleupfel.

Oddly, no one spoke from the construction unions as in the previous announcement on the downtown hotel.

Councilwoman Jen Giattino: Proposed amendments to Hilton Hotel (Post Office Hotel)

Official release:

Dear friends and neighbors,

I want to start with all the positives about this project: revenue, jobs and the completion of the Southern Waterfront. The total amount of taxes collected in Year 1 is nearly $1.8 million. By Year 5 that number grows to $2.2 million. The hotel pays full taxes (not piloted) and they are not putting the added pressures on our infrastructure that residential development does. Additionally,170 permanent jobs will be created.
My concerns are with the design and aesthetics of the building. We deserve a world class building to complete the Southern Waterfront. I fought for this under Mayor Zimmer and although she did not agree with the majority of the subcommittee she was willing to take a step back and allow the subcommittee to take the lead on something that was important to us.

Mayor Bhalla has negotiated a $3 million developer giveback which he unilaterally decided to give to two outstanding non-profits, Hoboken Community Center (the former Y) and Hoboken Public Education Foundation. Unfortunately this approach has created a divide between many of the worthy non-profits in Hoboken. This sets a bad precedent for Hoboken, creating division should never be our approach. 
Today I reached out to the developer of the hotel and quickly came to realize that they were open to giving additional monies to the Charter Schools and the Affordable Housing Trust (to be used for the Community Land Trust) after I expressed how important this is to our community based on input from residents. This is why we need a discussion on how future givebacks are negotiated and how important community involvement is and why a cooperative process is critical to get a positive outcome.

The proposed amendment adds three stories to the building and increases the bulk from 170,000 sqft. to 205,000 sqft. This was exactly the kind of building the subcommittee as a whole was trying to avoid. I am in favor of the height with proper setbacks which this plan is lacking.

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.  
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
Engage. Inform. Advocate.
“More Voices are Better”

Councilman Peter Cunningham on Mayor Ravi Bhalla expanding developer-union deal

Official release:

Dear neighbors and friends, 

By now I'm sure many of you have heard about the deal the Mayor struck with KMS, developers of the Post Office Hotel Project, to provide a cash contribution to two non-profits in Hoboken - the Public School Foundation and Hoboken Community Center (formerly the YMCA).  

I have issued the following joint statement with my council colleagues that calls this unilateral and autocratic action too narrowly focused.  There is no collaborative process.  We have many worthy non-profits as well as affordable housing and infrastructure needs.  

Happy to gather your feedback.  And please forward on as I am sure many have no idea what's happening.  Thanks, Peter