Hoboken: February 2008 Archives

Neumann Leather Building: Spin City

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Monday night, myself and other tenants from my condo gathered in our fitness room (which serves as our temporary conference room), to listen to Dean Marchetto (Architect) and representatives of Trammel Crow Residential (Developer) present their vision of developing land where the Neumann Leather Building is located at 300 Observer Highway.

If you haven't heard, they are In Contract. I decided to make this in a FAQ form, for easy understanding of what they told us, and what I can remember the residents asking. There were lots of questions and Mr. Marchetto and the representatives from TCR were extremely considerate, patient and forthcoming with their answers.

But I also added in a new element with The Spin Doctor, who will remain anonymous, contributing to my story. I planned to just write a FAQ, but the Spin Doctor, an avid reader of my site, saw it when I posted it and feared I was misled. So, I have the (Q)uestion, (A)nswer, and Spin Doctor (SD) comments. The answers were what the tenants were told at the meeting. The spin is what The Spin Doctor says about my answers (which are basically what TCR representatives Rich Murphy and Tricia Gutowski told me).

Spin Doctor: TCR and Marchetto are coming to Jefferson Trust seeking support because they are not getting it from inside the Neumann community or from key decision makers in the city. Many others who have seen the TCR proposal are against their plan to demolish the entire historic Neumann property, removing all buildings and existing uses in an unimaginative and destructive way. The Neumann Leather Tenants Association and Observer Highway Redevelopment Advisory Committee are working on plans to redevelop and revitalize Neumann Leather without destroying it.

Q: WHAT? The building is SOLD?!
A: Not sold yet, under contract. Under Contract means that TCR has made and offer and deposit on the property.
SD: Under contract also means if TCR can't come to a consensus on a plan to develop the site in whatever it considers a timely manner they can decide to take their losses and move on to the next project without paying the full purchase price for the Neumann Property.

Q: Oh great, another monstroustity is getting built? What are the details, man?
A: TCR claims it will be a 5 story building. They said that the building that's going up at the Municipal Garage, would dwarf this project. The city currently allows for larger buildings that line Observer Highway and they could have proposed "a 12 story design", but TCR was aware of the residental backlash against the urban sprawl currently going on in town and loves us, the people, so much.
SD: The city zoning code does NOT allow for 12 stories on the Neumann Leather property. 415 Newark was built through zoning variances, not current zoning. Neumann is currently zoned industrial, which allows buildings no higher than what you see there today. 12 stories is NOT currently allowed for the Neumann triangle.

Q: They are extending Clinton Street? That sucks!
A: TCR claims this is not correct and a "misperception of many residents". They aren't creating an "extension", it will be for pedestrians only and blocked for use by any vehicle traffic. Designed with cobblestones, trees and artisan street lamps, it will be more like a Italian plaza-esque design for the extension of the first floor commercial customers. It would be similar to what was done at 11th street at the Maxwell project.
SD: Do not fall for the line that Clinton Street will not be extended through the new project, because it will. TCR and Dean Marchetto can say they don't "plan" on it being a through street, but they know Hudson County is likely to insist on it if the city allows TCR to clear the entire Neumann property for development. Planners at the county and city level have been talking about connecting Newark and Observer via Clinton for decades. Newark and Observer are county roads and the type of redevelopment TCR is proposing at Neumann cannot be done without a county permit. When TCR applies for the permit, the county will tell them to drive the road through the property. Marchetto knows this, and this is why I believe he designed the project this way. One of the reasons given for the "need" to extend Clinton is to allow ambulances to get to Hoboken University Medical Center faster via a straight shot down Clinton. If it looks like a road, it's a road.

Q: That area is in a flood plain, anyone who buys there is so screwed.
A: That's true, it is in a flood plain and the architect and developers are well aware of this. First they plan to make a "Green" building, using many enviromentally friendly measures. The first floor will only have commericial zoning, or the garage. Dean Marchetto developed 300 Newark Street, which is across the street.
SD: Nearly all of Hoboken is in a flood plain. Lots of developers are saying they are building green buildings, but Dean Marchetto is also the architect of Dean Geibel's Metrostop building with all the "Think Green" ads you see. The truth is Metrostop is not even close to being a green building according to LEED standards. Don't just take a developer's word that they are building a "green" building. Ask for their LEED certification information.

Q: Are they condos or rentals? How many?
A: 275 Rentals. TCR is well aware of the current market and plans rental units. If the housing market changes, they may change that, too.
SD: This is what they say today, but as history shows us developers in Hoboken often start with plans that have a tendency to get bigger as the years go on.

Q: What will be on the first floor?
A: They have a (approx) 375 car garage, designed for 1.5 cars for every renter. They are fully aware that not every renter will own a car, but also very aware of the terrible parking situation in Hoboken, and are designing a building with easing street congestion.
SD: A 1.5 parking spot-per-renter ratio would be frowned upon by the city's planners. Besides, just because there are parking spots for every renter doesn't mean the new residents will use them. There are more than enough spots at the Archstone at 77 Park, but many renters balk at the $225 a month fee and just park on the street, adding to congestion.

Q: Wait! What if they have extra parking there? What will they do? Daily space rental? Monthly rental?
A: No definite plans with that action, but they were leaning against daily rentals.
SD: They will likely lease the parking to a contractor like Central Parking or Little Man, who will manage daily and monthly rental operations. Don't let them tell you otherwise. These are the economics of parking facilities in Hoboken.

Q: Any plans for a park or green space??
A: No plans for a park, but the rooftop will be a "green roof", with real grass rooftop. Neighbors looking down on the Neumann Leather building will see this.

Q: But Neumann Leather has STARVING ARTISTS!!! What of them?!
A: Actually, there is a plan to create a seperate building (it's located near the corner of Newark and Willow) which will be 5 stories and only house studio space for artists, which will be rented at below market costs.
SD: We are heaing TCR is reaching out to artists groups outside of Hoboken to supplant the artists who now have studios at Neumann. Their plan appears to be to remove everyone from their Neumann spaces, destroy the building and start anew. This will take several years, and people currently in Neumann may be unlikely to return if TCR turns the keys over to a "new" artists building to an outside group.

Q: What? That's bullshit, TCR wouldn't do that.
A: TCR reps made it very, very clear that the community angst was their main reason for the low building height, the artists studios (at below market prices to assist those current, real starving artists), the green building materials, and the Clinton Street pedestrian walkway.
SD: You were probably right the first time.

Q: What about the industrial people in Neumann Leather, what about them?
A: Sadly, there wasn't a plan to accomodate the industrial tenants.
SD: TCR has no plan to accommodate any existing tenants of Neumann Leather at this time, not just the light industrial tenants. No existing tenants have signed on with the TCR plan.

Q: What kind of commerical properties will TCR allow on the first floor? I don't want a McDonalds there! I don't want a nightclub/bar there! I don't want a restaurant with a liquor license there!
A: TCR stressed they were on the same page and weren't going to allow something like McDonalds, but would be amenable for something like a Starbucks (which I think is great). They would be interested in restaurants, but not interested in a liquor license variance. Maybe something like a gym could be located there (Wouldn't it be cool to have a Crunch Fitness located there? I think so. They wouldn't need a pool, they would have one instantly when it rains)
SD: If TCR says they are interested in providing space for restaurants there is nothing they can do to stop anyone from bringing a liquor license there. Any restaurateur who leases space in TCR's building could buy one of the available "pocket" liquor licenses and place it at Neumann. Hoboken has a 500 foot rule that bars restaurateurs from getting liquor licenses, but the next bar is far from Neumann Leather.

Q: If they allow commericial projects what about trash? We don't want litter all over the streets like Garden of Eden did on Bloomfield!
A: There are two internal loading docks designed in the building, unlike GoE which didn't have one. The one entrance will be on Willow between Newark and Observer Highway. The other will be on Newark, between Clinton and Grand. The design of the loading docks will be to minimize noise and parking issues that trucks create on such streets like Washington.

Q: TCR should just buy the land and make one big park!
A: TCR was farily blunt, but direct about their intentions. They aren't going to sugar coat it, they are a company that develops projects like this across the country. They designed this property with the intention of making most of the people happy, but realizing that not everyone in Hoboken is going to be happy. They are a company that, like any company in America, wants to realize a profit. They don't make money in litigation, they don't want to get tied up in a courtroom over this project. They want to make a project that will make their company money, and keep the surrounding residents content with their project.
SD: Which is why they are selling their project so hard to immediate neighbors, because it is not going over well with others in town.

Q: Couldn't you just keep the building intact and build rentals inside it like they did with other buildings in town?
A: Neumann Leather building is very old. It isn't up to current construction techniques that protects against earthquakes (yes, this is a law for our area). There's also enviromental contamination (asbestos, industrial chemicals that have been used there over the years), and when doing the demolition, they are very aware that they will be EXTREMELY careful about this. They won't implode the building, they have a plan for a controlled removal of the structure, to minimize dust and contamination.
SD: If an Earthquake hits Hoboken we are all in trouble. This is a non issue designed to obfuscate. As for environmental contamination, the extent of it is unknown at this point, but not considered to be significant. Neighbors would likely face greater jeopardy in the demolition of the site than they would from the rehabilitation of historic structures. This is a smokescreen.

Q: Do you have pictures?
A: They have pictures and floorplans. It isn't final yet, and I hope to get it up here soon.

Q: Who will manage the building?
A: TCR will have an on-site management company.

Q: Hoboken should stay like it did! Change is bad!
A: Yea, that's just not going to happen. TCR claimed that the city collects about $125,000 in taxes from the Neumann Leather site? With the new plan they project the city would collect about 10x in yearly taxes from the rentals and commerical customers. With our current fiscal situation in the city, this will contribute to helping Hoboken generate revenue.
SD: First of all, that $125k number does NOT come from the tenants. It comes from the property taxes paid by the owner of the property. The tenants themselves contribute millions to the Hoboken economy by employing people and being a part of the community they work and in many cases live in. These are your neighbors. As for the potential to bring in "ten times" the revenue to the city, studies have shown for every dollar in new residential ratable tax revenue gained, municipalities spend more than a dollar to provide essential services (trash/police/fire) for the new units.

Q: Why is TCR approaching the neighbors of this project? What's in it for them?
A: TCR is trying to learn from the mistakes of other developers and design a project that the majority of residents will find suitable, but also realizing that "you can't make all the people happy all the time". They want to create something that makes them a profit (This is America, folks), but also doesn't have the entire community up in arms over their project and trying to get it blocked (This is Hoboken, folks).
SD: That's a nice sounding story, but others believe they are approaching neighbors after receiving lackluster and negative responses to their plans from others who want to see the Neumann Leather complex fixed up and revitalized, not destroyed and replaced. The NLTA and OHRAC are working on alternative plans that they look forward to sharing with the residents of Jefferson Trust and the entire City of Hoboken.

Q: Why your condo building? How many people live in your condo?
A: We have 100 tenants (renters/owners) that live across the street at 300 Newark. TCR said they are meeting with neighbors about this, and had met Observer Place residents last week about it. In our building we had flyers put up in the hallways and at the elevators for days. About 15 residents showed up on Monday night at 7pm.

Q: Do they plan a similar public forum at City Hall?
A: We didn't ask this, but from the Spin Doctor, i'm sure they won't.

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