HOSTILE TAKEOVER. Hoboken ousts Robotics staff from automated garage

Hoboken ousts Robotics staff from automated garage
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Jersey Journal

HOBOKEN - The battle between the Hoboken Parking Utility and the operators of tnayhe Garden Street automated garage broke into full-fledged war Tuesday night - and city taxpayers could be left picking up a multi-million tab.

Escorted by several Hoboken police officers, Parking Utility director John Corea entered the city-owned garage at 916 Garden St. just after 10 o'clock Tuesday night, and ordered an employee to leave the premises, according to Dennis Clarke, general manager of Robotics Parking Inc., the Clearwater, Fla.-based company that has operated the first-in-the-nation garage since it opened in 2002.

Yesterday morning, a Parking Utility employee stationed outside the 314-space garage said that a new company - Israel-based Unitronics - has taken over operations and is using the Robotics software to run the garage.

Robotics then filed an injunction against the city in U.S. District Court, asking that the garage be ordered shut down, saying the city might be illegally copying the software used to operate the intricate system of elevators, pallets and pulleys.

City attorney Joseph Sherman said the city isn't copying anything. "All we are doing is operating our garage," he said.

Judge Stanley Chesley, sitting in Newark, ruled about 6 o'clock last night that the city can continue to operate the garage at least until its contract expires with Robotics on Aug. 1. However, Robotics can have a representative in the garage to ensure its software isn't being copied.

After the ruling, Clarke said he didn't know if he'd do that.

"If they downloaded anything, they did it within the first two minutes," he said. "We're not going to sit here and baby-sit people 24/7."

But what will happen after Aug. 1?

"That's something I will address with their attorney tomorrow," Sherman said last night.

Despite the ruling, Clarke said his company will continue to fight the city in court.

"This is a criminal act," he said earlier in the day yesterday. "If they get away with this, then (Bill) Gates is at risk."

If Robotics prevails, Clarke said, his company could win as much as $18 million from the city.

The City Council's committee transportation is meeting tonight. Clarke had been invited to attend the meeting prior to Tuesday night's action, but had told The Jersey Journal a few hours earlier he wouldn't attend unless the city gave him an agenda of what was to be discussed.

Asked why the city would extend an invitation to Robotics before expelling the company from its property, Sherman said he was not aware of the timing.

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