In a letter to the editor, Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher refutes some claims made by her council colleague James Doyle regarding the city’s hotel plan and development on October 27th.
I am basically a one-issue voter this year. Leaving aside the absolute requirement that we only elect someone who does not pay for votes and is not beholden to outside interests, the one local issue that I feel is most critical to all of our quality of lives is development.
With almost 1/3 of Hoboken to be redeveloped, we need to elect the person who is best equipped to make sure that future development works for Hoboken.
This means the right type, the right heights, the right community give backs, and the right residential density taking into account the impact on traffic, parking, infrastructure and growth.
To me the only candidate who is positioned to do this is Council President Jen Giattino.
Two weeks ago, Councilman Jim Doyle wrote a letter to the editor here citing the strengths of Team Bhalla as it relates to addressing development in Hoboken. I wanted to take this opportunity to refute a number of statements he made.
My background is commercial real estate finance, having worked 22 years for both real estate companies and banks financing real estate projects and companies.
I actually first thought about running for City Council just after the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan was approved when I felt that maybe I could leverage some of my experience to help the city going forward on this issue.
Keep in mind, although the plan is significantly less scale that what NJ Transit and Elcor originally wanted, it is still just a plan. It is not an agreement to build. And plans can be changed.
Which brings me to the plan for a Hotel at the Post Office site. In Jim’s letter, he leads the reader to believe that the City has approved an actual hotel to be built – which is not the case.
What was approved by City Council with a 7-2 vote, including a ‘yes’ vote from me, is just a plan.
There is no agreement to build, and KMS, the proposed developer of the hotel that is being contemplated has not yet even been designated as developer, and you cannot negotiate a development agreement until the developer is determined.
In Jim’s letter he says:
“…in exchange for this huge concession [height], the City will receive no true community benefits…” and goes on to say “…the plan… provides no community “give backs” at all. Instead, the plan considers a for-profit, high-end rooftop restaurant and a for-profit banquet hall as alleged public benefits.”
Give-backs and community investments are not determined until the City negotiates a development agreement with the developer which has not happened.
Jim seems to be confusing minimum amenities that Hoboken wants to see for a hotel project in this location – like much needed banquet space to serve our residents and support local businesses and having a rooftop that has public access so Hoboken residents can enjoy the view – with the concept of a give-back.
Jim actually made this point repeatedly during the council meeting where the plan was being discussed – that the plan was not an agreement with the developer, because the developer had not yet been designated, but that it was just a plan.
So I’m a little confused by his assertions in his letter that contradict this.
Jim also makes the statement that he and Councilman Ravi Bhalla both support a “12-14 story ‘boutique’ hotel to this location, in line with the heights of the surrounding buildings.” That sounds nice but this is neither feasible nor a realistic alternative.
And this is where in my opinion Team Bhalla and Team Giattino diverge.
Hotel development is more complicated than other types of development. Jen, who is on the subcommittee that oversaw the plan along with Ravi, Councilmen Cunningham and DeFusco, insisted that the City hire a financial and real estate consultant with hotel industry expertise to advise the City.
The ‘Hotel consultant’ prepared a thorough analysis of what could feasibly be built on the small, half-lot, taking into consideration what hotel operators require and amenities that were important to the city.
And as the advisor said when he testified at the same council meeting, a hotel developer would not build a 12-14 story boutique hotel in this location because it would not be economically feasible – there would not be enough revenues from the hotel to justify the cost to build.
It is fair for Jim to say that he and Ravi don’t want to see building heights greater than 12-14 stories in that area, most in Hoboken including Jen and me have sensitivities to height, but he and Team Bhalla have no basis to say that they can somehow deliver a hotel in that location at those heights.
And just a couple more corrections for the record:
- When Jim says “12-14 stories….in line with the heights of the surrounding buildings” and “the building will be 29 stories and 290 ft. high and the 2nd highest building in Hoboken”, he excludes the Hoboken Yard Development Plan that he championed in his role as the Chair of the subcommittee for the project.
The tallest building in Hoboken Yards plan will be up to 303 ft. when completed, with two other buildings in that plan at 250’ feet each.
Additionally, The W Hotel is comparably 313 ft. (as an aside, The Post Office redevelopment plan states the hotel would be 24 stories – not 29 as Jim states).
- Jim wrote that the hotel, if built, will overshadow Pier A park.
But he doesn’t mention that the subcommittee was extremely sensitive to the shadow concerns which reflect those of many in our community and included the following in the plan “the City may evaluate design proposals that necessitate deviating from these requirements in order to achieve a design that creates the least possible shadow impact on Pier A Park.”
Finally, I find it unfortunate that Jim believes Team Bhalla to have a better understanding of how to negotiate development. Just look to the 7th and Jackson Project that was also approved by a vote of 7-2.
In that project, again led by Councilman Doyle and voted ‘yes’ by he and Councilman Bhalla, the City gave the developer $128 million of tax abatements for the next 30 years. How did this happen?
At the end of the negotiation where it was agreed that developer already got to keep all his development rights from three parcels and put them into one out-of-scale building (as opposed to having to go to the trouble of building three times), have a beautiful plaza and park in front of his building, and in exchange, only had to build 10% affordable units, some resiliency structures and a small gym for a total cost of about $15 million.
At that point, the developer submitted a request for the PILOT stating the project wasn’t feasible without. And with no financial analysis of the project to determine what terms for the tax abatement made sense, the City agreed to the one requested by the developer which had the most attractive terms for the developer that is statutorily allowed in the state of NJ. Council President Giattino voted ‘No’ for this. And so did I.
To me not only do I think Jen Giattino is the only candidate who can take this issue on, but it is the reason I did not support Ravi when he first announced he was running. I have worked with them both. This is not Ravi’s strength. But it is Jen’s.
And about the rest of Team Giattino – it’s their strength too. Zoning Board Chair Jim Aibel who has been protecting our interests for 8 years. Financial professional and already a community leader on development related issues Jason Ellis.
And union leader with extensive experience negotiating with developers Sal Starace. I strongly support the entire Team Giattino and looking forward to working together with them to make sure we get development right for Hoboken.
Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman