Peter Alvarez knew when he and his business partner signed a lease in April 2007 to open Crepes Grill on the Hoboken waterfront that there might be risks involved. But he didn’t know how bad the situation would get.
The eatery is located in an enclosed concession counter in Sinatra Park on the central waterfront, far removed from the bustling Washington Street foot traffic. It is next to a popular soccer field – which was shut in 2008 for lead abatement and then repairs.
Alvarez thought the families would come by the hundreds on weekends as athletic competitions took place. Much to his satisfaction, the families did come. Until three years ago.
“As spring progresses we’ll start to see things like that look like a road again.” – Jim Kennelly
The concession stand is owned by the city.
“In our first three months I was making rent just on drink sales,” Alvarez said.
Problems began to emerge at the park and then on the waterfront as a whole, spotlighting Hoboken’s crumbling infrastructure as well as the slow speed of government.
First, there was lead contamination on the youth field in 2008, which shut down the field and kept the kids and parents away for the summer. State tests were completed on 12 fields in four counties in May 2008 after lead was discovered at a turf field in Newark and the state wanted to test similar fields. (Two other Hoboken recreational areas, Church Square Park and the Hoboken Little League field, were found to have no traces of lead in their turf, which is a newer brand than the surface at Sinatra Park.)
Then, the city stepped up construction of Pier C, a park that juts out onto the waterfront about two blocks south of Sinatra Park. The city closed off walkways near the eatery.
Finally, a portion of the soccer field collapsed in 2009, and the field was shut down for all events. The soccer games were moved to the Hoboken High School field.
The city is not sure when the soccer field will reopen.
Crepes Grill remained open until last December, but they were no longer making a profit.
“It was like we were working at the Meadowlands Stadium acting as a concessionaire, but no games were going on,” he said last week.
Will file a suit
Alvarez is planning to file a lawsuit within the next week against the city, not only for the lack of activity near their building that they say they were promised, but also for alleged property neglect. However, this isn’t a simple landlord-tenant dispute.
“As a landlord they haven’t done their jobs,” Alvarez said about the city. “One of the challenges coming in was the building doesn’t have heat. I would have customers freezing in there which was totally embarrassing.”
Alvarez and his business partner have appeared before the City Council at recent meetings. But they say that every time they requested an answer from a council member, they were met with silence.
The city has a policy of not commenting on any ongoing or pending litigation, a stance that Mayor Dawn Zimmer echoed when asked for a comment last week. However, she did say she understands the concerns of business owners who may have suffered because of the crumbling waterfront.
“That’s why it’s extremely important that we repair [the waterfront],” she said. “It’s about economic development.”
The council bonded for $12 million in March 2010 for repairs to Sinatra Field and another nearby collapse site, Castle Point Park, but was recently told repairs would cost closer to $20 million, which will require additional bonding. Now the city is waiting to hear back from the Department of Environmental Protection about approving the reconstruction of the collapsed area.
Zimmer knows care will have to be taken to ensure the long-term viability of what is essentially a park over water.
“The important part is that we put together a maintenance schedule and we put the maintenance plan going forward, so [the park] goes beyond my years as mayor,” she said.
City spokesman Juan Melli could not provide a target date for the field to reopen, but said the mayor is working to try to get approval “as soon as possible.”
Even when the field reopens, Alvarez said he is hesitant to return his business to the location.
Uptown issues, too
Crepes Grill isn’t the only business that shut down due to waterfront problems.
Last October, a portion of the Sinatra Drive North roadway famously collapsed and left a sink hole. The hole was covered by numerous media outlets, and even got its own Twitter address.
In October, Lua, a Latin-American restaurant on the waterfront, was shut down by the fire marshal in Hoboken. He said that the nearby construction blocks exits from Lua, creating a fire hazard.
A statement from the restaurant’s ownership indicated that they are looking forward to a “bigger, better re-grand opening.”
However, “dozens” of workers were laid off because of the shutdown, according to one news report.
The street is a county road. County spokesman Jim Kennelly said last week that the repairs are on schedule to be completed in late May.
“Due to extreme winter weather we lost about five to seven working days,” Kennelly said. “The weather made access to the site difficult.”
Kennelly said the road is comparable to “working on an iceberg”, as much of the problem area that needs construction is underwater.
Last week, the work on underwater pile driving was completed. Langan Engineering of Elmwood Park is performing the construction.
The road was built originally on timber structures, which ultimately failed due to a combination of problems, including shipworms burrowing into the wood, as well as regular weathering.
The new road will be built on top of steel reinforced concrete, which is believed to be much sturdier than the timber.
“The next step of the construction will be the building of the concrete relieving platform,” Kennelly said. “The relieving platform sits on top of the pilings. On top of the platform will be the road.”
A return to normalcy may be nearing, according to Kennelly.
“As spring progresses we’ll start to see things like that look like a road again.”
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com