After three years of delays and finger pointing from all sides on the proposed automatic parking garage at 916 Garden St., the contractor charged with installing the automatic functions had a press conference Monday to show that the garage works.
The conference was held by Robotic Parking, the firm charged with installing the garage's software and automated features. It was prompted by the Hoboken Parking Authority's unanimous vote in a closed-door meeting Wednesday, July 31 to extend the deadline for the surety (the insurance company holding the garage's performance bond) to turn over a completed garage. Robotic did not agree with the five-week delay and says the garage is ready now.
Political factions, agencies, and contractors have blamed each other for three years of delays in the garage. The local police department and an engineer at the Stevens Institute of Technology are investigating to find out who's at fault and whether there has been criminal wrongdoing.
The completion of the garage is important to a public tired of cruising the streets looking for that rare parking spot. It is also important for Robotic, as this will be their first completed garage in the United States.
After Robotic gets the Hoboken garage running, they hope to return to an incomplete project in Florida, and possibly build other such garages across the country.
"This is the free the automated garage press conference," said Robotic Executive Peggy Guignon on Monday as she introduced Robotic Parking President Gerhard Haag, who has built automatic garages in Germany.
Haag spoke for about 15 minutes in front of the garage. As he spoke, cars entered and exited the facility.
The demonstration proceeded as follows: A green Jaguar was driven onto a palette at the entrance to the garage and it was lifted into a parking spot within it.
After a few minutes, it was returned to the exit, driven around the block, and brought back to the entrance. In total, the car was parked and returned to its owner approximately 10 times.
Even though the press was given a sneak peak, they were not able to see the inner workings of the garage and had to watch the demonstration from the sidewalk. The Hoboken Parking Authority has instituted a strict no admittance policy inside the garage since the project's beginning. Only members and representatives of the HPA, the insurance company (Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Company of Princeton) and its contractors are allowed to see the machinery work from the inside.
To deliver his car, the driver swiped his card on the wall of the office. A vinyl curtain lowered, and the observers heard the hum of machinery lifting the car. To retrieve the car, the driver punched in a code and swiped a card, and the car came back.
Everyone's got a spin
The press conference was scheduled on Monday at 2 p.m., during the one hour of the week in which cars on the east side of Garden Street, across from the garage, are ticketed for alternate side parking. Since the street sweepers arrived after 2 p.m. and cars were ticketed by Environmental Service Employees (who work for the city and not for the Parking Authority), this allowed some Robotic supporters to imply that there was a Parking Authority effort to ticket cars; but even the street sweepers are run by the city's Department of Environmental Services - not the Parking Authority.
Should open in September
At the press conference, Haag was insistent that the latest delays were not his fault.
"The purpose of today's conference is to prove that the garage works and is ready to open," said Haag.
Even though Haag says he is ready to start phasing in cars, he is going to have to wait until at least Sept. 9, since the HPA seven-member board voted unanimously to extend the deadline for Lumbermens to turn over a completed garage.
Explanations regarding the latest delay vary depending on who is asked. According to Haag, he was told that the delay was for the surety to finish installing the electrical system and sprinklers and to allow enough time to apply for the building's certificate of occupancy.
HPA Chairman Frank Turso said Monday that while the surety will be finishing some punch-list items, the remaining three-week period will also be used to allow the HPA's engineering consultant to make sure that the garage meets its design specifications. John Coyle of NetTech Solutions will be spending the next few weeks inside the garage performing tests to make sure the garage is safe and functioning up to contract specifications.
"They [the surety] have until September 9 to start phasing in cars," said Turso. "I'm presently confident that they will meet [the Sept. 9] deadline. I don't foresee and major problems."
But even before Coyle presents his final report to the HPA, it is already known that at least two aspects of the garage will not conform to the original contract specifications. Previous tests of the system have shown that it takes an average of 132 seconds to retrieve a car from a parking space within the garage. That is 12 seconds longer than what the contract allows. Robotic does not dispute the 132-second number. Both Turso and Robotic officials have blamed the problem on steel misalignment.
Another departure from the contract specifications is that an employee, trained on the computer systems, must be present on-site or be on-call while the garage is open. It is still not known how much this will add to operating costs.
Mayor David Roberts said Wednesday that he is hopeful that surety can deliver an acceptably functioning garage. "The bottom line is that we want a safe and functional garage," said Roberts. "Right now I'm guardedly optimistic that they will be able to pass the tests."
The mayor added that he is aware that even if the garage does open to the public it will not be entirely to original specifications. Because of the extra time it is going to take to retrieve cars, he said, the city might have to deal with lined-up cars on Garden Street. He said if a problem arises, the city might look into removing some on-street parking spaces from Garden Street to allow for an extra lane to queue into the garage.
He also had concerns about the cost of hiring a full-time trained professional to watch the automated garage. "It's become abundantly clear that there is a need for a competent staff with computer training," said Roberts.
According to city officials, the garage that was supposed to be built for $6 million is now almost $5 million over budget. Robotic officials dispute the estimates of cost overruns and say their portion of the contract came in within the budget. What isn't disputed is that every month that the garage remains unfinished, the Parking Authority has to pay over $20,000 in debt service on the garage's bond without receiving any revenue.
What some residents are saying
While some residents want the garage to open quickly, others are still skeptical of the idea as a whole.
Garden Street resident and Chairman of the Zoning Board John Branciforte was on hand Monday to witness the demonstration.
He called the demonstration "interesting" but said despite the technology, there are some inherent problems, especially with the garage's location. "It is what it is," said Branciforte. "It's a parking deck in the middle of a neighborhood."
He added that he doesn't really see the garage solving a whole lot of problems. "It's only a drop in the bucket," he said. "It's going to be great for Robotic when it opens, but it really won't have a huge impact on Hoboken's parking problems."
Another Garden Street resident who did not want to give his name said that the entire process has been disheartening. "It's been a fiasco," he said. "It was a mess that was started by an earlier administration. You have to give [Roberts' administration] lots of credit for trying to fix the problem."