City to investigate 916 Garden. Mayor to launch fact-finding task force to probe delayed garage

City to investigate 916 Garden
Mayor to launch fact-finding task force to probe delayed garage 
By: Tom Jennemann
Reporter staff writer 

INQUEST – Mayor David Roberts has formed a task force uncover the current status of the 324-car automated garage. 
Frustrated with the lack of progress at the 324-car garage at 916 Garden St., Mayor David Roberts announced that he will be launching a independent investigation into the garage. According to city officials, Police Chief Carmen LaBruno and Professor Constantin Chassapis, director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, will lead the fact-finding mission on the 916 garage.

The investigation will begin immediately, and the mayor expects an initial report of findings and recommendations to be completed within the next two weeks.

"I have run out patience," said Mayor Roberts Monday. "We are moving in and taking decisive action."

The garage, which began construction approximately four years ago, is almost three years behind schedule and is several million dollars over budget. The Hoboken Parking Authority is the city board that green-lighted the project in 1998. The HPA is an autonomous agency whose policy is dictated by seven appointed volunteer commissioners.

The mayor and the City Council are responsible for appointing the commissioners, and until recently, two of Roberts' appointees sat on the board.

Mayor Roberts had said in the past that because the HPA is autonomous, he would have liked to stay out of the fiasco surrounding the garage. But he said Monday that standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.

"When I first came into office almost one year ago, I made it a point to stay away from the situation involving the 916 Garden Street garage and let the parties involved do their jobs," said Roberts. "A situation that I hoped to see improved has only gotten worse. Almost four years after construction began and $5 million over budget, the 916 Garden St. garage is still mired in accusations and conflicting reports."

HPA Chairman Frank Turso said Wednesday that a fact-finding probe can only help accelerate getting the garage open. "I welcome it," said Turso Wednesday. "Anything that they can find out, I would be happy to learn about. I understand that they have concerns and if [this investigation] can help straighten this out, then I'm all for it."

Robotic Parking Inc., the contractor hired to install the automated features at the garage, also said that they welcome the fact-finding task force.

"We agree with the mayor's urgent desire to help resolve the on-street parking problem in Hoboken, and residents should be encouraged that the creation of this entity can help expedite a 324-car garage," said Robotic in a statement released earlier in the week.

Mayor Roberts' announcement to form a fact-finding task force comes in the wake of several noteworthy events at the HPA. The first is that in the last two weeks, two HPA commissioners, Daniel DeCavaignac and Alan Cohen, both Roberts' appointees, have submitted their resignations. However, both said that the problems at 916 Garden were not why they were quitting. Instead, both men did blame a lack of a shared overall parking agenda and philosophy with the mayor and City Council as their reasons. They were appointed last summer and were not on the board when the garage had its biggest problems.

Also, the Reporter received two conflicting reports about the current status of the garage. Both reports were written about the Performance Validation Testing that was held on May 3. The tests were an opportunity for Robotic to prove that they had met their contractual obligations. One report, which was submitted by the engineering consulting firm RetroTech Inc, says that the May 3 tests were successful and that the results are the "best possible times that this system is capable of." RetroTech was hired to monitor the tests by the insurance company that holds the performance bonds on the garage.

A second report submitted by NetTech Solutions three weeks ago paints a different picture about the current status of the garage. NetTech was hired by the HPA to monitor the testing. NetTech's report states that there were several system failures during the test, and that one system failure involved a Robotic employee being accidentally lifted in a car into a parking space on one of the garage's upper floors.

Robotic stands by the evaluation in the RetroTech report and points to that report as proof that the garage is nearly complete. "The mayor's fact-finding effort should support the latest performance test of May 3rd, which successfully passed the automated parking system in the facility," said Robotic in its statement. "[The success is] according to an official report issued by RetroTech, Inc., the contracted engineers of record and a firm that specializes in automation. Robotic Parking is completing its final checklist and will be ready to receive patron lists in approximately one week, and begin to phase-in cars shortly thereafter."

Roberts said that he hopes the task force will be able clear up any inconsistencies and uncover possible wrongdoings.

"I want to be very clear about this," Roberts said. "If there is any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever, it will be sent directly to the county prosecutor. We are going to get to the bottom of this, and anyone who has violated the public trust will face consequences. And in the end, we are going to open this garage to provide our residents with urgently needed parking."

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