Thursday, October 11, 2018

City: 'Ravi Bhalla admits City Council got more money for Hoboken'

Behind the scenes, reliable sources say Mayor Ravi Bhalla is less than pleased the City Council improved the proposed Hotel Hilton community givebacks for another $350,000.

While admitting that political reality, the City spokesman tried to put the best face on the additional 350K showing up minutes after word of the deal hit the street.

Clearly, money was left on the table and sources close to the discussion revealed obtaining the initial $300,000 for the three charter schools took mere "minutes."

The City statement from the mayor's office appeared earlier today on the Hudson County View:

"The Mayor negotiated an agreement that included $4.5 million in community givebacks. We applaud the City Council for securing an additional $350,000. This is an excellent win for the people of Hoboken.

Councilwoman Jen Giattino is the impetus behind hundreds of thousands of dollars boosted in givebacks according to well-placed sources on the Hilton Hotel community givebacks package. Among the groups seeing additional funding: all three Hoboken Charter schools, the Hoboken Affordable Housing Trust and more infrastructure funds.

Talking Ed Note: It's a little too early for an Orwellian rewrite of history. The City Council with other members of the public pushed back on limiting funding to only two non-profit groups: two million for the community center replacing the Y and a million for the school district.

If you want to blame or give credit where due, look no farther than Councilwoman Jen Giattino.
More to come.

BREAKING: City Council obtains additional $350,000 in Hotel Hilton givebacks!

Official release:

Council Secures Additional Funding up to $4.85 Million; Urges Mayor Bhalla to Support and Recommends City Council to Vote 9-0 to Approve Amended Plan for Proposed Hilton Hotel 

The City Council subcommittee responsible for evaluating the proposed Hilton hotel is announcing that late Wednesday night it received a verbal commitment from KMS, the developer of the hotel, to increase the total community benefits by $350,000 to $4.85 million.  This increase will provide further investment in education and infrastructure in surrounding neighborhoods.  With this increase, the subcommittee supports the improved plan, trusts that Mayor Bhalla will see these expanded contributions as beneficial to more Hoboken residents, and recommends that the City Council vote 9-0 on Wednesday, October 17th in support of this revised plan.  
In aggregate, the revised proposal will now be: 

-              $2 million to help establish the Hoboken Community Center, with $75,000 to be immediately available to fund their feasibility study and launch the project
-              $1.165 million for infrastructure, with $165,000 to be dedicated to the needs of the adjacent neighborhoods
-              $1 million to fund the endowment for Hoboken Public Education Foundation which provides private investment into the Hoboken Public District Schools
-              $485,000 to the three Hoboken Public Charter Schools 
-              $200,000 into our Affordable Housing Trust fund to help seed future investment in affordable housing

“The City Council Subcommittee wants to thank KMS Development for their incredible commitment to supporting the broad needs within our community and for bringing a world class hotel to Hoboken that will redefine our southern waterfront.  We appreciated working collaboratively with all stakeholders in making community benefits in this redevelopment a priority and trust that Mayor Bhalla finds these additional concessions from the developer a benefit as well.  We encourage our neighbors to reach out to the Mayor and the rest of City Council to ask for their support of this improved plan that reaches even more of us.” 

Councilman Mike DeFusco: "What's happening at Hoboken's future Hilton?"

Official release:

With fall well underway in Hoboken, I wanted to quickly reach out an updated you with what's going on in and around town...


I have long advocated for a balanced hotel development in the parking lot behind the post office at 89 River Street, squarely within my home district, the first ward. This project’s ability to bring substantial yearly tax revenue (1.7mm) for the city, county and school district (400k), create jobs, support economic development, and add vibrancy to a downtrodden portion of the southern waterfront have long fueled my advocacy. 
Last week, the mayor presented the City Council Development Committee, which I co-Chair, with a revised plan to increase the size of the project to nearly 350 guest rooms.  To put this in perspective, that’s larger than the redevelopment plan the City Council approved in 2017 which then Councilman-Bhalla said was “out of scale” and voted against.  In exchange for this larger building, the mayor negotiated $3 million from the developer in the form of upfront capital for the City. Instead of using those funds to fund public projects, the mayor proposed donating the full amount to two local non-profits:  the former uptown YMCA as well as HPEF - a group of parents supportive of our local district schools.

I support those organization, but $3 million in developer givebacks simply wasn’t enough to justify the impacts of the overall project.

So, I along with Council members Giattino, Fisher and Cunningham, as well as community advocates from affordable housing and public charters schools, got to work and pushed for additional financial givebacks to benefit a wider portion of the city.  This resulted in the developer increasing their contribution an additional 50% to $4.5 million which funds $1 million for neighborhood infrastructure, 300k donation to our public charter schools and $200k for affordable housing.  

I am further pleased that just last night, the Council Commitee was able to secure a verbal commitment of an additional $350k — $184k for public charter schools and $166k for the first ward, to deal with the needs of the immediate neighborhood.

This Council proposal would raise the overall potential giveback is $1.85mm over the mayor’s original agreement and provide parity to the public charter school donation while also further supporting the neighborhood being impacted.  The mayor is aware of this updated proposal and we trust that he will be supportive.

The biggest problem though is that the mayor missed a key opportunity to honestly invest in Hoboken's infrastructure as part of this project. It is difficult to square this decision with his heated rhetoric about our failing water mains, just a few short weeks ago.  Though I'm pleased with the potential $1.16 million in infrastructure for the neighborhood, that amount doesn't come close to mitigating the overall impacts of nearly 350 new rooms on 1/2 a city block.   At a time when our city's failing infrastructure regularly make front page news, it’s critical that development deals like this one adequately support day-to-day quality of life for all Hoboken residents, like fixing our crumbling roads, replacing aging water-mains and modernizing parking and pedestrian safety. 

Lastly, in response to the public outcry from residents who felt this process wasn’t transparent, fair or in the case of our public charter schools, proportionate -- I agree. These funds were never publicly notified as being available, there was no process for applying and no way of fairly weighing their merits in a committee. The full Council will act to ensure that any future allocation of public funds for private purposes receive a significantly more thorough process.

So long as the mayor agrees to the updated terms proposed by the Council, I am in support of moving this project forward on Wednesday.