More than a hundred people gathered Tuesday night at Hoboken High School to brainstorm and discuss economic development issues at one of what will be ten public sessions relating to the creation of a new master plan governing the future of development in Hoboken.
A master plan is a document that will detail guidelines for development, growth, redevelopment, and enhancement of a community. A master plan usually contains three general components: What a community is, what it wants to be, and how it will become what it wants to be.
It has been 16 years since Hoboken's master plan has been rewritten.
In the spring, the urban planing firm Abeles, Phillips, Preiss & Shapiro signed a $270,000 contract to guide the city through the daunting process of overhauling Hoboken's master plan. One of the reasons that they were awarded that contract is because they promised to get the community involved in the planning process.
The master plan consultants have designed an extensive participation process that includes ten public workshop meetings to be held from September 2002 to March 2003. Everyone is invited to attend the meetings and is encouraged to offer their ideas on how to improve the city.
The first four workshops are related to topics of importance to Hoboken, such as economics, community resources, building design and circulation. The final four workshops will address particular geographic areas of the city. Additional focused special interest meetings will be held as well for groups such as business owners and senior citizens.
Tuesday's meeting was held to discuss the economic issues that face the city. John Shapiro and Paul Grygiel of Abeles, Phillips, Preiss & Shapiro hosted the meeting, which consisted of an open flow of ideas and information between them and those in attendance.
The meeting drew a diverse group including developers, business owners, the mayor, city councilpersons, landlords, development activists, waterfront activists, community religious leaders, Stevens officials, Zoning Board members, Planning Board members, educators and senior citizens. The only group of the city's population that was underrepresented was the young 20- and 30-year old population, a group that is known for lower voter turnout.
Because of the diverse nature of the attendees there were several disagreements, but the meeting moved forward in a conciliatory and productive with many people contributing ideas.
The agenda included such topics as the appropriate location of office, industrial, and retail spaces, how the Hoboken Terminal could develop, the importance of home occupations, and the role that the Stevens Institute of Technology should play in the community's economy. In each of these topics, Shapiro and Grygiel asked those in attendance how each of those agenda topics would affect the city's taxes and the quality of life of its residents.
Often during the meeting, Shapiro would play devil's advocate with the goal of inciting comments from the public. As each member of the public commented Shapiro would record the responses on tear sheets that were posted on the high school's cafeteria wall.
Where could offices go?
The first agenda item for brainstorming was where office development should occur in the city. Shapiro, for argument's sake, proposed that an ideal location for large office development would be within a 10-minute walking radius from the PATH and the train terminal. He also suggested that "specialty office" uses near the light rail stops at Second and Ninth streets were appropriate.
Several members of the public said that the impact of the coming Hudson Bergen Light Rail on the west side of town has not been full appreciated. "I can see a tremendous mixed-use possibility [for the areas near the light rail]," said Hoboken resident Curtis Crystal. He added that start-ups, legal firms and computer firms might be a good fit for the west side where rents would not be nearly as high as they would be on the waterfront. "Most people don't realize the full potential of the light rail," said Curtis.
Shapiro argued that the back of Hoboken might not be as attractive to larger and more prestigious employers as the area around the waterfront and PATH, and said the light rail doesn't have nearly the same transit capacity as the terminal.
Hoboken resident Scott Gibson said the area around light rail stops should not be sold short. Gibson, who works at Exchange Place in Jersey City, said that "it's just as easy to get to Exchange Place as [it will be to get to the light rail stops] and there is quite a bit of office development there."
After a half-hour more of discussion, Shapiro restated his hypothesis based on community input. "What appears to be emerging is a twin approach," he said. He said that while larger more exclusive companies would need to be near the transportation hub and the waterfront, there also might be a need for secondary office development along the light rail for businesses that might need lower rents for start-up companies and similar operations.
Industry and the arts
In an effort to elicit comment, Shapiro proposed that industry is moving out of town and that the city really doesn't need it anymore.
Crystal said, in response, "Industry doesn't all mean the 19th century mills." He said that it could be valuable to have some industry in the city such as furniture makers and technology incubators among others. "There are a lot of possibilities if scaled right," he added.
The attendees talked about what industries would be appropriate and Hoboken and the discussion quickly bled into what extent the community should support the arts. "Is there a sense that the arts have passed Hoboken?" asked Shapiro. Almost everyone in attendance seemed to think that the arts are an important part of the community. The consultant then asked those in attendance to raise their hand if they thought the arts were worth subsidizing with either tax or zoning breaks. The crowd was mixed on the level that the arts should be subsidized.
Some brought up the idea of creating a cultural center in town, a district where theaters, studios and other artists could work in the same area, but to create such a district it would most likely have to be subsidized by the city with tax or zoning abatements. Others thought that the arts should not be subsidized at all by the city.
Shapiro did make the point that the arts can be a "high visibility, small business". Meaning even a small number of area artists can impact on how the community is viewed. If done right, he said, "you don't have to dig very deep in your pockets" to support the arts.
City Councilman Tony Soares suggested that there is a possibility of bringing in commercial artists who are capable of turning profits, businesses such as television studios or companies that specialize in graphic design.
Shapiro opened a discussion of retail opportunities by telling the crowd that Hoboken's "retail spending power is going through the roof." He pointed to a preliminary draft of a report that his firm is working on using the most recent census data. According the preliminary numbers, the disposable income of Hoboken residents has gone from $270 million in 1990 to $480 million in 2000 and he said in the near future that figure will reach almost $600 million in disposable income.
He added that two thirds of all consumer dollars are currently going outside the city. He said normally a city retains up to 75 percent of consumer dollars, making Hoboken out of whack with national averages.
Shaprio said that the upside to these numbers is that the city can expand retail throughout the city and keep Washington Street vibrant. He said the possible downside is that because of these numbers, if current indicators remain constant, within the next 10 years the city will become gentrified with commercial stores like the GAP. "There will be more clothing stores and less convenience stores," said Shapiro.
He proposed three approaches to deal with the need for expanded retail in the city. The first opportunity he proposed was to take a Washington Street-only approach, and expand retail options in the city's main corridor. The second is to expand retail options in the Northwest Redevelopment area, and the third was to make the Hoboken Terminal a retail hub along the lines of South Street Seaport in Manhattan.
Most in attendance seemed to agree that they wanted an approach that would support the community without making quality of life issues such as traffic worse.
Ron Hine, who is the executive director for the Fund for a Better Waterfront, said that large retail stores may not be the answer to solving Hoboken's problems in retaining the city's disposable income.
"I'm very much opposed to 'big box' retail in Hoboken," he said. "They would generate a tremendous amount of traffic."
Planning Board member Kim Fox said providing for Hoboken residents should be the number one goal in retail development. "What we need are services that support the community that is here," she said. "Not ones that are going to bring people an exacerbate the city's traffic problems."
Upcoming master plan meetings
Topical Workshops (all meetings start at 7 p.m.):
Tuesday Oct. 22 Community resources (parks, open space, utilities, services, etc.)
Thursday Nov. 7 Buildings and design (density, historic preservation, zoning, etc.)
Wednesday Dec. 11 Circulation (pedestrians, parking, traffic, and transit)
*Meeting locations for the last three workshops will be announced in the Hoboken Reporter shortly.
Geographic Workshops (all meetings start at 7 p.m.)
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003 Center city/Washington Street
Wednesday Jan. 29, 2003 Central/northern waterfront
Tuesday Feb. 25, 2003 West side (light rail, northwest area etc.)
Wednesday March 26, 2003 Southern waterfront/terminal area
* Meetings will be held in the area being covered - locations will be assigned at a later date.
Senior Citizen Meetings (both meetings start at noon):
Wednesday Nov. 7 Fox Hill Apartments
Thursday Nov. 8 Multi-Service Center