Hoboken 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino accused the Mayor Ravi Bhalla administration of trying to horse trade for votes on a critical bond ordinance necessary to move forward on the proposed municipal complex.
“What is particularly disturbing is that instead of … listening to council members who are not in agreement with the project, we the public are hearing an offer was made for the administration not to run a council candidate against a council person in the 2024 [sic] election in exchange for support of this project,” resident Paul Presinzano said during the public portion of the meeting (the ward council races are in 2023, not 2024).
“Think about that for a moment: I’m praying this is not the case. If certain people are willing to compromise our local democracy to get support for a once-in-a-lifetime municipal complex instead of finding an acceptable compromise, we have bigger problems in Hoboken.”
The municipal complex, which has a projected cost between $152.5 million and $192.5 million depending on which amenities are added, has initial estimates of a $28.5 to $38.5 million to be covered by taxpayers over a 30-year period.
Initially touted as a public safety complex, the proposal, pegged for 1501 Adams St., has evolved to also include council chambers, a court house, rooftop park, library, community center, and parking lot.
While two public meetings and surveys have been held, the city still does not own the Poggi Press site they hope to use.
While the city council approved the ability to use eminent domain in February, a related $44 million bond ordinance has been carried on the past two agendas. The measure passed 5-4 on first reading and would require six votes for final approval.
During new business, Ramos, who announced in February that he wanted to hire a planner to get a new rec center project started, said he was offered for that to be included in the municipal complex plan in exchange for an affirmative vote.
“I gave a multi-service center update earlier: the administration has taken the position that we’re $300,000 short in the budget this year, but they did offer me if I vote in favor of the bond issuance for the DPW garage that this could be included in that bond ordinance and I’m rejecting that on it’s merits,” he said.
Between the four council members who voted no on first reading, Ramos has been the most vocal, telling HCV last month that the project “might be the worst urban planning in the history of urban planning.”
A few minutes later, Giattino said “the multi-service center was your trade, I was offered Castle Point Terrace,” questioning how all of these projects could be in the budget, which has not been introduced yet for this year.
When asked if she had any proof to corroborate her claims, Giattino forwarded a March 29th email from Business Administrator Jason Freeman where he says that “probably the most efficient way” to get the Castle Point renovations moving is to include it in a second reading of the bond ordinance.
“Councilman Ramos, Councilman DeFusco, and yourself have all come to the Administration to explain the urgency of three projects that are all inline with the Administration’s priorities of no longer putting band-aids on major projects around town. This would be a holistic approach to accomplishing many shared outcomes,” he wrote.
“In an effort to work together and solve many shared priorities, what are your thoughts on the inclusion of: The Rehabilitation of Castle Point Terrace, The Rehabilitation of Court Street, and the soft costs related to the redevelopment of the Multi-Service Center, in the bond ordinance to acquire the property for a new DPW Garage?”
Freeman continued that he made the suggestion after Giattino suggested at a subcommittee meeting that the administration take a “holistic” approach to the city’s needs, further stating that the “omnibus bond package” would be a win across the board.
She replied that the bonds should be separate so the council “can vote on the merits and the projects need to be done.”
City spokeswoman Marilyn Baer remained optimistic that Ramos and Giattino would reconsider supporting the project.
“The city hopes Council members Ramos and Giattino take the time to review the merits of the project as described in the Mayor’s memo and previous communications,” she began.
“The majority of the Hoboken City Council supports the Hoboken Municipal Complex, which will support our Public Safety Department and Department of Public Works, deliver a long-sought-after municipal pool, provide indoor and outdoor recreation space, and create an uptown branch of the Hoboken Public Library. This project is an opportunity for elected officials to work together for the betterment of Hoboken to provide more efficient city services and increase residents’ quality of life.”