We’ve waited since 2005 to hear that Stevens Institute of Technology will finally add the final puzzle piece to their unfinished Babbio Garage overlooking Frank Sinatra Drive.
So what’s another month?
Although the Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustment did not take a final vote this past Tuesday, March 22 – opting instead to carry the application to an April 26 meeting – planners did go into more detail on the project.
“It’s an eye sore right now along Sinatra Drive, let just be honest…and that is why we’re here,” Stevens’ attorney Jason Tuvel said at the hearing.
Work on the Babbio Center, which abuts the garage, was completed in the fall of 2005. But shortly afterward, the Babbio Garage was halted due to what Stevens has described as “legal challenges.”
The school did finish 144 spaces within the intended 436-space garage and another 30 outdoor spaces in front of the garage. After receiving preliminary approval for the newer version of the project in 2009, Stevens filed an application with the Zoning Board last September to build the expanded garage.
The school now hopes to expedite the process in phases in order to finish the garage by 2017. A building that would enfold the garage would be constructed between 2020 and 2022.
Stevens is proposing 50 free public parking spaces available at the Griffith lot under the conditions for the Babbio Garage.
With such projects, the board typically attaches conditions before approving applications.
As part of the 2009 submission, Stevens endeavored to be ahead of the game by stating they will make 50 spots available to the public at the Griffith lot north of the Babbio Garage on Sinatra Dr. These spots, which would be open Monday to Friday 4 to 11 p.m. and weekends 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. are slated to open in 2017. They are intended for those visiting the area’s waterfront, and baseball and soccer field.
However, since they are free, some residents at Tuesday’s meeting wondered how Stevens would monitor them.
Finishing the garage has weighed heavy on the minds of Stevens development officials who hope to complete the first phase of the project by early 2017 to meet the demands of their recently-approved two building four-story Academic Gateway Complex on Hudson Street.
Stevens, founded in 1868 and currently with over 5,000 students, hopes to expand its student body to 8,000 by 2022.
A matter of phasing
The proposed first phase of the project is estimated to cost $12 million and will be paid for through bonds, Director of Community and State Relations Beth McGrath said.
The Center for Engineering and Science Innovation that would ultimately wrap around the garage is anticipated to cost at least $30 million.
“[The building] will be paid for by future capital funding plans,” said McGrath in an email.
Although it was revealed at the hearing that the new building would cut into Frank Sinatra Dr., Stevens said the public will get a clearer idea just how much at the next hearing.
Some at the four-hour meeting took issue with the free 50 spaces only being available at the Griffith lot rather than at the new Babbio Garage.
However, Stevens officials say they prefer to allocate the spots in the Griffith lot for a number of reasons, including security concerns. Stevens’ police fear that if anybody can park in the Babbio lot the public will have easy access to the campus buildings.
Although the campus is largely open-space, card-access is required in academic buildings such as the Babbio Center.
Stevens divulged little in the way of details on phase 2, instead focusing on the amended application which just calls for the approval of phase 1.
If things go as planned for Stevens at project closeout the garage will have a rooftop plaza with a seasonal ice-skating rink, an exit/entrance and an eight-foot crosswalk along Sinatra Drive.
A new staircase, with a built in rail to carry bicycles from Sinatra to the campus, is also part of the initial phase. The stairwell, which is designed to have a sitting area in the middle, would replace the current dilapidated wooden stairs.
Making everyone happy
Hoboken has become somewhat notorious for stalling zoning applications until the city’s environmental and other activist groups have had their say.
School officials said throughout the process they have been in talks with representatives from groups such as the Fund for a Better Waterfront and Quality of Life Coalition, and the Hudson Street Alliance. The latter group was founded to address the Gateway Complex application.
As part of the all-encompassing plan, Stevens’ plans reconfigure 5th Street to make a 90 degree angle around McLean Hall instead of down toward Sinatra Dr.
Hoboken waterfront activists have said they’d want to see a piece of property that adjoins Sinatra Drive made public in order to extend Sinatra Park north and – via the current waterfront walkway – link up with Castle Point Park.
“What we want is to have 5th Street extend straight down to Sinatra Drive, which has several advantages, and we want to talk to Stevens to make sure that nothing is done which would prevent that from happening,” said Gerald Muller, an attorney representing the Fund for a Better Waterfront. “Right now, that is a public right of way, but Stevens as part of its plans, they are putting in sidewalk and steps and we want to make sure that right of way is preserved. Hopefully we can have an engineer and find funding sources.”
The Fund for a Better Waterfront says they plan to meet with Stevens ahead of the April meeting.
While the Hudson Street Alliance did not touch upon phase 2, they call phase 1 a “win-win situation.”
In a statement the group says they have met with Stevens and can say “with confidence” that phase 1 has a positive impact on Hudson and surrounding streets.
“With the entrance and exit of the garage on Sinatra Drive it will divert traffic away from the already congested area between Washington Street and the campus,” a statement sent to the Reporter said. “It will greatly improve our quality of life by reducing traffic, freeing up parking spaces for residents and making our streets safer.”
A ‘meshy’ conversation
Students, faculty and residents alike have had to bear with the unsightly half-done garage on Frank Sinatra Drive.
Therefore, as part of the garage’s first phase, Stevens Institute of Technology plans to encase the garage in a temporary polyester fabric.
The fabric, also called “photo-printed mesh material” at the hearing, would wrap around the exterior of the garage during the three years of construction from 2017 to 2020.
The purpose of the façade is to conceal the not-so-pretty sight of the existing garage from the groundbreaking of phase 1 to the start of phase 2.
The garage’s wrap-around membrane has a one-year warranty, said Richard King at the hearing. King is a senior associate with Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, the architecture firm contracted by Stevens.
Stevens said they do not have the costs for the fabric nor the amount to maintain it throughout the three years it will be up. From 2020 to 2022, Stevens will construct the permanent structure that will hug the garage and, according to King, be made from metal panels, a glass curtain wall, and terra-copper.
“Why are you putting this mesh up?” asked Hoboken resident Mary Ondrejka during the hearing. “No one lives across the street from it to see this and it would be open and it’s a garage and it’s temporary. So what is the logic in putting this mesh up?”
King simply answered for “aesthetic purposes.”
He later elaborated in a statement: “The use of this fabric for the project allows us to provide an aesthetically pleasing short term façade for the parking structure, while minimizing the amount of material that would need to be placed in a landfill in only a few short years.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.