Gnashing of Teeth Over Hoboken Hilton Hotel Developer ‘Giveback’ Continues—City Council Votes TONIGHT
This one is puzzling, even for Hoboken politics…
What appeared to be a done deal as recently as last week has suddenly become a contentious issue—despite the fact that they’re seemingly all in favor of it.
Confused? We all are.
A little over a week ago, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, announced an unprecedented “giveback” arrangement, where KMS Development would give money to a number of Hoboken initiatives in exchange for approval of its hotel design. The Hoboken Hilton had initially been approved nearly 18 months ago, but ever-evolving design demands required further approval.
Flanked by City Councilmembers, community advocates, and union officials, Mayor Bhalla stood outside the Hoboken Community Center and unveiled the list of demands he had put upon KMS to gain approval for the project. Among those demands were funds to renovate the Hoboken Community Center (former YMCA) to the tune of $2 million dollars, as well as $1 million to the Hoboken Public Education Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing our public schools, additional $300,000 to area charter schools, and a $200,000 for Hoboken’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
When asked by hMAG if this project would move forward without the “givebacks”, Mayor Bhalla stated, “I would not be amenable. My administration is insisting on these givebacks.”
Since then, the Hoboken City Council has maintained that it would support the plan, while trying to firm up the commitment.
“We are all still working on final changes to make sure that the deal that the mayor sold to our community, is actually what is reflected in the legal agreement,” said Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, in a prepared statement. “Things like: Ensuring that the $2M of funds that the mayor’s chief of staff promised to board members of the Y (Hoboken Community Center) to restore the Y, actually in fact go to the Y. The mayor has proposed in the actual agreement that it go to the city and only MAYBE go to restore the Y which is not what was agreed.”
Also at issue is the timeline of the payments. Fisher insists the Council is concerned with, “ensuring that all of the community benefit payments are actually funded before certificates of occupancy and completion are given to the developer. Instead of the developer-friendly arrangement of making the payments after the developer no longer has incentive to pay, which is what the mayor negotiated.”
On Tuesday evening, Mayor Bhalla sent an email to constituents that indicated the plan is seemingly in peril. “We need you show up to ensure that the Councilmembers put politics aside and support these benefits at Wednesday’s council meeting,” it read. “Unfortunately, if the Council votes no to this agreement, we will lose out on the $4.85 million in funding for our community.”
Hoboken Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Freeman told hMAG earlier today that, “The email was prompted by the urgency for this resolution to be passed by the City Council, and as demonstrated by previous Grassroots campaigns, public support and pressure is required to assure the passing of this resolution. The City Council Subcommittee does not represent a majority of the City Council, which is required to pass this resolution.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino seemed to indicate that she was voting yes. “Perhaps, the Mayor’s email is referencing the councilmembers not on the subcommittee (Councilmembers Doyle, Falco, Jabbour and Russo),” she said in an email.
“I am voting yes on the project,” said Fisher. “Do I need to say it again so that it is clear for the mayor?”
Councilman Michael DeFusco told us, “I was just as surprised as everyone else that the mayor decided to pick a fight last night by sending out a misleading email indicating the vote was in jeopardy and then picking a fight with me on Twitter for advising folks it wasn’t. I’ve long advocated for this hotel, even when the mayor was against it and used the project against me in the last election and my support has never wavered.”
I sure do hope those emails you sent today asking to eliminate guarantees of a public pool and indoor recreational at the former Y are subject to the Open Public Records Act (hint, hint …) https://t.co/DMB4ghrJbL
— Ravinder S. Bhalla (@RaviBhalla) October 17, 2018
“Councilman DeFusco for too long has been spreading half-truths or even flat-out lies to the residents of Hoboken, and this deal is far too important to let him spin a narrative that simply is not true,” said Freeman, in an email to hMAG. “I hope that Councilman DeFusco actually stands by his word and votes yes on tonight’s resolution, but I won’t hold my breath.”
We asked DeFusco what his vote would be.
“I’m voting yes.”
As for the emails referenced in the Mayor’s tweet to DeFusco, they concern the legality of the “giveback” agreement, and the distribution of the funds.
This is bordering on absurd. Here’s email @RaviBhalla refers to, where I’m advocating that funds go to the Y (aka HCC) as promised, not to any other purpose. I’ll be voting Yes tomorrow bc it’s right for Hoboken. This kind of deceitful politics is wrong. https://t.co/cSICzcFEFt pic.twitter.com/vM2l45aQmE
— Michael DeFusco (@mike_defusco) October 17, 2018
Hoboken City Council will meet at 7 p.m. this evening (Wednesday) at 94 Washington Street.