The vaunted facility, which automatically transports cars to their spaces, has suffered over the past few years from battles with the city and from equipment malfunctions. In the last year, the city has emptied the garage of cars as it began phasing in a new company to oversee its operations.
The city plans to allow 150 cars back into the facility by the end of April.
The garage will be fully operational again by the end of August, said Haim Shani, CEO of Unitronics, the Israeli-based automated systems company chosen by the city to retrofit the facility with new software and hardware.
By the end of the summer, the site will be able to house approximately 300 cars, just like it used to.
The garage first opened in October 2002, several years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. The city and the garage's creators, Robotic Parking of Florida, blamed each other for the delays and debt.
The tenuous relationship between the two entities continued over the years, as disputes arose from customers' delays in retrieving their cars and damage to several vehicles.
Last year, the city terminated its contract with Robotic after Robotic asked for more money. The only problem was that Robotic owned the software to run the unique facility.
Back in business
Last week, Hoboken Parking Utility Director John Corea said the garage, which is currently running on a "semi-automatic" status, is expected to house approximately 150 vehicles within the next four weeks.
"Our current plan allows for a gradual and partial activation of the system, as we did not want to completely close the garage for at least six months, as is usually required in such a project," said Corea. "We're making our best efforts to expedite the completion of the project and minimize the inconvenience to garage patrons."
To date, Hoboken has not paid for the installation of new software or hardware at the facility. According to a contract the City Council unanimously approved at a Dec. 6 meeting last year, the city has three months after the installation is complete and the garage is fully operational before having to pay Unitronics $1,974,000.
According to Corea, with the installation process being completed by this August, the payment will be made in November or December of this year. It will appear in next year's budget.
The agreement will give Hoboken ownership of the software that has been designed to run the garage, as opposed to renting it like they did with Robotic.
Although the maintenance contract has not yet been decided, the city is currently considering a five-year contract in which the city will pay Unitronics $4,100 per month to have technicians maintain the site for six days every four weeks.
Corea added that Parking Utility employees assigned to the garage will receive 100 hours of instruction on how to properly operate the automated system before becoming certified by Unitronics.
Once it is completed, the garage will be one of eight municipal garages in the city. The garages are responsible for generating approximately $8.69 million in annual revenue with over 3,200 parking spaces in Hoboken.
The garage's current state
As of January, the garage has been performing on a semi-operational basis, with only 18 customers using the facility after it was shut down in mid-December. The other customers were relocated to municipal garages around Hoboken.
According to Corea, the current time it takes to retrieve an individual's car at the automated garage is approximately 10 minutes, being that the present capabilities of the garage allow for the use of only one pallet to relocate the vehicle from its space to the entrance.
In comparison, by August the retrieval time is anticipated to take three minutes.
Not all the required parts have yet arrived in the U.S. from Israel, where they are manufactured, due to customs hold-ups, said Corea.
Although the future appears promising, one incident was reported earlier this year involving the front side door of a car being damaged due to a software glitch caused by the frequency of a cell phone used in the facility. According to Corea, the software has since been modified and there have been no further problems. Michael Mullins can be reached at email@example.com. SIDEBAR
History of disputes
The city and the original manufacturer of the automatic parking garage on Garden Street, Robotic Parking, have had various disputes over the years. The tensions reached a climax in the summer of 2006, when Robotic informed Hoboken that it planned to increase its monthly fee from $23,250 to $27,900 for allowing the city to continue to use its software. As a result, the City Council canceled the contract with the garage on Aug. 1 of last year. In the months that followed, an agreement was reached in which the city would pay Robotic $5,500 a month for three years for the use of its software. In addition, the city would pay $23,250 a month to Unitronics to operate and maintain the garage. In November, the same Federal Court judge, Stanley Chesler, who previously helped broker the settlement between Hoboken and Robotic, now found that the city had broken a confidentiality agreement with its former partner by allowing an outside firm to use the software after the contract had ended. Unitronics was subsequently forced off the site late last year and the previous financial agreement was made null and void. After Robotic's software had been removed from the site, the Hoboken Parking Utility took control over the garage for a few weeks before allowing Unitronics back on the site in mid-December. According to Corea, litigations are still pending between Hoboken and Robotics, who is suing the city for allegedly infringing on its patents. - MM