In 2008, the owner of the Neumann Leather Building, at 300 Observer Highway, had a proposal to knock the building(s) down and build new condos. The artists and tenants at the building, along with the residents united in a common front to staunchly protest this plan and have the Hoboken City Council deny them variances & zoning changes to move forward with their plan. I, myself, spoke at the City Council meeting to protest changing the site, and wrote about it here.
Last night the City of Hoboken sponsored a community meeting to gather input from residents and tenants called "NEUMANN LEATHERS REDEVELOPMENT PLAN COMMUNITY WORKSHOP". As per the city's email:
"The plan will address possibilities of adaptive reuse of buildings, needs for improving utilities, traffic around the site, and potential uses and density for development of the area.
The public is invited to participate in this process. This first community workshop will include exercises to recognize the existing conditions of the site and surrounding area, as well as identify constraints and opportunities for the future development of the area. This will inform the planning and design process for the project team of planners, engineers, economists, architects and landscape architects. The consultant will gather the community feedback from this meeting to help develop a vision for the area and determine appropriate alternatives for a comprehensive plan for the area."
In laymen's terms : They want to see where the public stands on the site & any kind of changes to it - from minor facade repairs to drastic changes. Most (not all) of the people I talked to had this to say:
- We like the building, but would also like to see the exterior windows and facade cleaned up & restored.
- We like the artists and tenants, and don't want to see them forced out - and definitely do not want more condos.
- The city needs industrial lofts. We have enough nail salons, frozen yogurt and sushi restaurants.
- The open blacktop parking lot is an eyesore & a waste of good space.
With that said, if I had a magic wand, this is what I would change at the Neumann Leather site, and I think it would be a win/win for everyone from the tenants, the neighborhood and the owners.
#1 - Allow the owner to develop the parking lot into condos.
Condos? NO! NO! We don't need more condos you said it yourself!
Just hear me out.
I'm in the camp that i'd like to see the Neumann Leather building remain where it is and not to displace the tenants. I'm also in the camp that the building looks like shit. I don't think anyone can disagree with me there. The Neumann Leather building is ugly. They have some windows with cement cinder blocks and other windows with broken, chipped windows. It's ugly. The sidewalks are cracked around the entire building. There is one single, lonely, tree planted outside by the bus stop.
Six years ago the public was fairly united that we would love to see the building restored, and the area around it cleaned up. The problem is that the owners have no real incentive to do this. Why would he? Out of the goodness of his heart? The owner doesn't even live in Hoboken - from what I understand he lives in North Carolina and could give a shit about the site aside from collecting money from tenants. The sidewalks are never plowed after snowstorms.
The owner, however, knows that he is sitting on a gold mine. The location is fantastic, and building there would mean a lot of new revenue. The compromise would be to allow for the parking lot to be replaced by a new residential building. Preferably a building that has three bedroom condos, something that we sorely lack in Hoboken. I also would hope that however the new building is designed that it has a new parking garage built into the building, so that tenants of the building can park there for free, or a modest cost like $5 a day (or $100 a month). Also the building should be in line with other buildings that surround it, so no more than 12 stories (Observer Plaza is next to Neumann Leathers at 12 stories tall).
Red: Allow for development
White: Do not develop
Green: Create a pocket park or cobblestone courtyard for community events like farmers market
Yellow: These aren't part of Neumann Leather, but they are already under construction or slated for new construction.
Blue: Pedestrian/Bike Pathway between the building connecting Newark St and Observer Highway.
Allowing for this development then needs to be tied into my next point:
2. Restore the Neumann Leather building. Clean the facade. Restore the old graphics. Replace the windows. Fix the sidewalks. Add trees.
Something like this, keeping the original architecture, but replacing and restoring the windows to a modern, clean look:
Again, the incentive to do this would be the trade off of allowing for new construction.
I think a big win for Hoboken would be attracting a Whole Foods or Sprouts Farmers Market. A perfect location would be here. I think a creative campaign by the city and the owner here could absolutely land a premium super market for this location. Parking wouldn't be an issue, since a new parking garage would be built on site for those who want to park there. I know, for example that the sitemap I drew with yellow stripes also planned to put in a public parking garage, too, along with condos.
How does everyone win?
The owner wins because they can develop (some of) their site, which allows them to generate revenue.
The neighborhood wins because they get a restored, beautiful building, open space (or a cobblestone open courtyard), and a Whole Foods.
The tenants win because we keep the industrial lofts for them.
I think this is a compromise that allows everyone to get what they want, if we allow for some minor changes.