The Hoboken Parking Authority has begun taking the future of a one-of-a-kind parking garage that was to be built at 916 Garden St. into its own hands. The $10 million facility, which has been partially erected, is to be the first fully automated garage in the country.
The general contractor in charge of the entire project fired the engineering firm it had hired to build the automated part of the facility in October, leaving the entire project in limbo. It appears that the soonest it could be built is April, almost one and a half years behind schedule.
The parking authority met Wednesday night – their second emergency meeting on the subject in as many weeks – and decided to hire their own consultant to look into the matter.
A contract not to exceed $25,000 was awarded to Roy Ferrari of Wisconsin, an automated garage specialist, according to Bob Murray, an attorney with the parking authority and with the city.
Murray said that Ferrari has been asked to see if building an automated garage is even technically possible at this point. He has also been asked to evaluate how much more the parking authority might be asked to shell out to finish it off.
“The good news is, the preliminary report from Mr. Ferrari makes it look like the parking authority will be able to get the technology and they will be able to put it into place,” Murray said Wednesday night in a synopsis of the situation delivered to the City Council. “It is also the parking authority’s hope that we can install this technology without any additional costs or at least minimal costs.”
Murray’s rosy report was met by raised eyebrows of some in the audience and on the council, since Robotic Parking Inc., the subcontractor that was fired, has been said to be the only engineering firm with the technology necessary to install the automated function at 916 Garden.
Councilman Tony Soares asked for more information, saying that he was under the impression that parking authority commissioners had to go all the way to Germany, where Robotics engineers had done prior work, to examine the technology.
Soares asked if there was any other contractor that could fill the void left by Robotic.
After warning the council that “lawyers don’t build garages,” Murray did point out that when the parking authority originally asked for bids on an automated garage at 916 Garden St., six proposals were offered. “All of them did not include Robotics,” he said. “It turns out that the technology involved here is not a unique technology. Large corporations have been using it to move equipment around for years.”
Nevertheless, the Parking Authority is covering all of its bases.
An insurance company that was retained on a $6.1 million bond the authority took out to build the project “has been notified that in the commissioners’ opinion, the general contractor may not be able to complete the project,” said Murray during a break in the meeting.
A meeting with the insurer has been scheduled for Monday.
During the public comment portion of the meeting a resident who lives near the garage could find little to say that was positive about the situation with the garage.
“Mr. Murray, thank you,” said John Branciforte, a resident who lives at 10th and Garden and has been trying to find out what is happening at the garage for weeks. “You have given us more information tonight than we got in the last six months [from the parking authority].”
Earlier Michele Russo, a parking authority commissioner and the wife of Mayor Anthony Russo, promised the council that a letter would be drafted soon to the residents who live near the garage explaining the situation.
$36 million in new bonds to be sought
Helen Hirsch, an 80-year-old city resident who tracks city business with the fervor some people save for tracking their favorite soap operas, was left scratching her head Wednesday night. As she does at almost every City Council meeting, Hirsch had come to the microphone at the front of the room to ask city officials for more information about a less-than-simple piece of city business.
This time, Hirsch wanted to talk more about $36 million in new bonding authority the parking authority was seeking. In an effort to get the lowest possible rate, the authority had come to the City Council Wednesday and asked it to serve as a guarantor on the bond. After a lengthy discussion that took place during the discussion period that precedes the regular meeting, the council agreed to help the authority out on a 5-3 vote.
While city officials claimed that the new arrangement would not cost the city a cent, since the authority also had insurance on the bond guaranteeing payment in the case of default, Hirsch thought the arrangement was a little too “convoluted.”
Not so, said Bob Murray, the white-haired city attorney who doubles as the parking authority attorney – before admitting that it is complex. “But in the cold light of Monday morning,” he argued that the arrangement was in the best interests of the city and its residents.
It seems that the authority needs new bonding authority to build a garage across the street from St. Mary Hospital. At one time, this garage was meant to hold more than 900 cars, but after a bit of an uproar at Tuesday night’s Planning Board meeting, the lot was cut down to a size of just over 800 cars.
In addition to going to market for a bond on the garage, the authority’s financial analysts recommended that they also re-finance their $6.1 million bond on the half-built garage at 916 Garden St. and establish the credit necessary to build other projects in the future.
“This provides for an amount of up to $36 million,” Murray told Hirsch, “but the expectation is that $20 million will be used.”
Earlier in the meeting Murray explained that by acting as a guarantor, the city made it possible for the parking authority to lock in a lower rate of lending.
“If the City Council chooses not to do this, the authority would have difficulty going to market and [the bonds] would cost more,” said Murray.
Hirsch was clearly unconvinced, as were Councilmen Dave Roberts, Tony Soares and Ruben Ramos. The trio voted against extending the guarantee when the issue came up for a vote earlier in the night. Councilwoman Nellie Moyeno was out of the room when the vote was taken.
The three councilmen seemed particularly uncomfortable with the arrangement, given the problems associated with the yet-to-be completed garage at 916 Garden St. That garage, a 326-space multi-level lot, is almost a year behind its projected construction schedule. There is some question about whether it can even be constructed at all.
“The parking authority has not proven to me to be competent enough to build the garage,” said Soares after the meeting. “They can’t build a 300 car garage so I am not going to vote yes on an 800 car garage.”
Murray sought to downplay the significance of 916 Garden in the vote on the bonding authority. “This bond issue is not something that will be used to spend more money on the garage [at 916 Garden],” he said during the meeting. He also pointed out that due to the way the bond issue was structured the funds could only be used to build structures that would have a revenue stream sufficient to repay the portion of the bond necessary to build them.
By the end of the night, Murray’s arguments had held the day. – DD
A leaky pipe
It all started after the regular business of the council was over and even the always-contentious public comment portion of the meeting had concluded. “Oh, one more thing,” said Councilman Steven Hudock before launching into what sounded like the most innocuous of subjects. “There is a pipe that is leaking and something needs to be done about it.”
It turned out that Hudock was talking about a pipe that runs overhead from 14th and Clinton Streets up into Union City. While Hudock was describing the potential danger caused when liquid from the pipe spills on the ground and freezes, now that it is colder, nobody said a word. But as soon as he said, “it’s not our pipe,” everybody knew where he was going.
Apparently, the pipes are supposed to be maintained by the county. County Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons, an ally of councilmen Dave Roberts, Ruben Ramos and Tony Soares, is a longtime political foe of Mayor Anthony Russo and his allies on the council, like Hudock.
Sensing trouble, Soares immediately began to interrupt the councilman and ask him why he “doesn’t do his job.” Hudock works for OMI, a sewage authority contractor.
“Why don’t you call your friends at the county?” Hudock shot back.
Soon there was general yelling as Hudock’ and Soares’ allies added their voices to the din. The audience could hear Councilman Michael Cricco asking Soares why he insisted on treating Hudock “like a rental car.” After the meeting, when asked what that meant Cricco explained that most rental cars are not treated with respect.
When order was restored, the council agreed to send a certified letter to the county about the problem. – DD