Questions about movie theater project

Questions about movie theater project
New zoning could mean additional 100 housing units for developer
Hoboken Reporter 09/24/2006

The Hoboken City Council has to decide if it’s worth giving a development company permission to build 100 units of market-rate housing so that they can also build a movie theater. The theater would not have to have any parking.  

Get out a tub of buttery popcorn, Gummi bears, and a large soda, because some drama is unfolding regarding the city's proposal to rezone a block of northern Hoboken to build a new movie theater.

One of the major items on Mayor David Roberts' agenda is to bring a movie theater to the city. In July, Roberts announced that local developers are negotiating with a major company to bring a five-screen movie theater to 14th Street, between Adams and Grand streets.

At Wednesday night's City Council meeting, the governing body introduced an ordinance that would amend the Northwest Redevelopment Plan to change the zoning to allow Ursa Development and Tarragon Development Corp., partners who are the designated developers for much of the Northwest Redevelopment area, to build the theater.

According to Jack Arseneault, the attorney for Ursa/Tarragon, the development partners are in the final stages of negotiations with Clearview Cinemas, which specializes in urban movie theaters, to operate the business.

Last fall, the city's only movie theater, Hudson Street Cinemas near the PATH station, closed.

But worth another 100 Units?

But what caught the attention of several council members was that the new zoning, according to the city Director of Community Development Fred Bado, will also allow the developers to build up to 100 additional units of residential housing adjacent to the theater.

The block directly faces the former Henkel Chemical Plant property. In the original redevelopment plan, the block was zoned as a non-residential "buffer area."

"Small theaters need something to offset the cost of development, and in this instance, it is the additional [residential] square footage," Roberts said.

The mayor added that the additional housing allowance is worth it to bring the city a much-needed amenity.

Arseneault echoed the mayor's statements and added that a movie theater like this one does not generate a great deal of cash flow, so some compromises need to be made.

"This is something that we have been working on for over a year to make happen," Arseneault said.

Rocky relationship

But while the mayor is in full support of the plan, the relationship between the City Council and Ursa/Tarragon has grown somewhat tenuous.

Ursa/Tarragon has been threatening the city with a lawsuit because the city has declined to condemn the properties of two working Grand Street businesses so that Ursa can build 150 units of mostly market-rate residential housing there.

Ursa/Tarragon has charged that the City Council broke its developer's agreement and that the city has a contractual obligation to condemn the U-Store-It storage facility and Kwitman & Son, a home furnishing factory.

The council members who voted against the condemnation said that they did not believe it was right to seize the property of two businesses just to hand them over to a private developer.

Update on Community Center

Also, several City Council members said they are worried that Ursa/Tarragon could renege on its commitment to build a new $10 million community center and swimming pool.

In July of 2005, principals for Tarragon/Ursa Development Group presented preliminary plans for the 26,000 square-foot community recreation center, including exercise rooms, lockers and showers, a dance studio, and community activity rooms, which would be built on 11th Street, between Monroe and Madison streets.

The property where the center would be built has been cleared, but according to Bado, construction has not begun.

Ursa/Tarragon is currently seeking to be named as the redeveloper for an additional 11-acre redevelopment area along the city's west side that would be a mix of residential buildings, retail space, and open space.

The mayor said that this designation is what is holding up the beginning of construction of the community center.

Councilman Rubin Ramos Jr. said Wednesday night that Council's recent vote not to condemn the Grand Street properties has also "let some of the air out of the balloon" as it relates to the community center.

Arseneault said that Ursa/Tarragon still has every intention of building the community center. "We are absolutely committed the community center," he said, but he did note that the center is certainly linked to the company being designated as the developer for the additional 11-acres redevelopment area, which he called Northwest Green.

He added that once Ursa/Tarragon is designated, the community center will be the first building they will construct.

"Before the first shovel goes into the ground [for any residential housing], we will start construction on the community center and pool," Arseneault said.

Arseneault also said that Ursa/Tarragon plans on including nearly 5 acres of open space in their Northwest Green project, although some critics are concerned that the open space will only be landscaped areas for the residents of the new buildings, and not active recreational space.

Enough givebacks?

Councilman Peter Cammarano, who said that he is in favor of bringing a movie theater to Hoboken, said that the proposed upzoning of the property to include additional residential units in troubling on several fronts.

He said if the city is going to increase the zoning of the Northwest Redevelopment area, then it should be as vigilant as possible to make sure that they are getting everything they can from the developer.

"They are holding us under the sword with threats of a lawsuit and [with the community center], but now they want us to modify the [redevelopment] plan to give them 100 additional units?" Cammarano asked after the meeting.

Councilman A. Nino Giacchi added that with concerns over the possible lawsuit and doubts about the community center, this could be a good opportunity to gain leverage with the developers.

No parking for theater

Another item that the City Council has to consider is if a movie theater is even wanted in that area. The zoning amendments would not demand parking for the theater.

Roberts said that that the rationale is that this would be "an urban theater," where the vast majority of patrons would walk to the movies. He noted that the entire city is within walking distance of the proposed site, and there is a light rail station just a couple of blocks away.

He added that it will be modeled after other urban theaters, like in New York City.

But 5th Ward Councilman Michael Cricco, who is the councilman for the area where the theater would be located, said that a number of residents don't want the theater. He said that they are worried about traffic and parking problems that it could cause.

Matt Cornelius, a Grand Street resident, said that his condo association and others in the area are collecting signatures for a petition voicing their opposition to the movie theater.

He said that his neighborhood is not like Manhattan.

We hope you'll enjoy the show

A public hearing and a final vote on the zoning changes could happen at the next City Council meeting on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at Hoboken City Hall.

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