Preserve the Records Building -- Strong Public Support for Alternative 4
Updated: May 11, 2020
The virtual public meeting on the fate of the historic Lackawanna Records Building was held, as scheduled, on the evening of April 16th. NJ Transit hosted. Despite many initial participant problems logging into the WebEx session, most eventually joined, either by web or a telephone connect. Many attendees spoke; others contributed by the Chat feature on that technology.
Mayor Bhalla opened the session with a strong call to preserve the building, citing both historic priorities and legal requirements. All of the speakers backed preservation of the Records Building. Most supported Alternative 4, Adaptive Reuse, in the current location. A few others favored Alternative 5, which would require careful disassembly and then rebuilding elsewhere.
The deadline for public input coincided with the end of the public meeting. Therefore, the Task Force, along with QLC, sent a letter to the Mayor just in advance of the meeting. Both organizations strongly support Alternative 4. That letter follows:
Dear Mayor Bhalla:
Subject: Responsible Development Task Force
& Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition
Support for Records Building Alternative #4:
Adaptive Reuse after Stabilization in Place
Many thanks for your leadership during the COVID-19 crisis. Hoboken is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States. That, plus our proximity to and many ties with New York City, make it crucial that we utilize all the preventative and mitigation measures you have put in place.
Despite this crisis, and the requisite public focus on the pandemic, the review of the status of the Records Building remains on the public agenda. The RD-Task Force appreciates the efforts by the City and NJ Transit to allow for public inputs by the City’s online survey about the next steps action alternatives and by tonight’s virtual meeting, co-hosted by the City and NJ Transit.
History of the Records Building and the Hoboken Yards Redevelopment Zone
The Records Building was built in 1904, predating Hoboken Terminal by several years. It had a valued use as a storage place for rail company records, and it has continued as a symbol of Hoboken’s rich history as a rail hub.
Geographically it sits at the southern end of our City’s Washington Street, our main commercial thoroughfare. It is also the only historic structure along the south side of Observer Highway, a major route into and out of Hoboken. As such it greets both train passengers and car travelers.
The Hoboken Yards moved into an active phase of public involvement in 2008, when over-scaled development plans were put forth in front of our City Council, the redevelopment entity for the City. Our group, founded as the Rail Yards Task Force in 2008, worked with the City and the City Council as the Plan for Hoboken Yards evolved. In these activities, we worked closed with Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition and members of that group were part of our larger collaboration with Hoboken’s Office of Community Development.
That original planning phase began in July of 2011, with the authorization of Wallace Roberts and Todd to help develop the plan. The process was lengthened by the impact of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Task Force and Hoboken QLC were directly involved in the process through passage of the Redevelopment Plan in December 2014.
Throughout the discussion and many plan permutations, all reviewed in detail, the emerging plan always included depictions of the Records Building in the mapping and visualization for the Zone. NJ Transit and LCOR, the designated developer, made no requests that the building be removed or considered out of context in the plan. In fact, the plan document noted, in its “General Building/Improvements section”:
“The following improvements to the historic Terminal buildings and infrastructure related improvements are not dependent on the development program and density proposed as part of the Redevelopment Plan and not required as a component of the Redevelopment Plan. These improvements may be undertaken at the discretion of NJ Transit.
• Restoration of Records Building and adjacent construction of new public space”
Although the restoration and its funding were not specifically required of NJ Transit, its demolition was not advocated. In fact, the plan supported its enhancement for broader historic, aesthetic and community uses.
The City of Hoboken, NJ Transit and LCOR, following passage of the plan in 2013, moved ahead with the legislated capability for some building within Hoboken Yards. During this time, as a safety measure for all of Hoboken, with most of the City classified by FEMA as being within a flood zone, the City began its Rebuild By Design (RBD) initiative. The Hoboken Yards zone includes one of the barriers necessary to protect our City.
The Amended Hoboken Yards Plan
The re-opened Hoboken Yards plan finalized in February of this year. Throughout that process, the Records Building has been depicted as an included element. The City had received indication that NJ Transit wished to demolish the Records Building. This request cited only structural concerns, not any negative impact of the building on the development zone. The plan approved in February of this year includes, in the “Historic Buildings & Structures” section the note:
“Portions of the Redevelopment Area are located within the State Register of Historic Places’ Southern Hoboken and Old Main Delaware Lackawanna & Western (DL&W) Railroad Historic Districts, both of which include the Records Building as a contributing property. Via community meetings and other means of communication, numerous community residents have expressed a desire to rehabilitate rather than raze these historic buildings.”
Pertinent New Learning
Vital additional perspective is now available to the City, NJ Transit and the developer, LCOR, as well as the broader community:
1. The opinion of the State’s Historic Preservation Office on the alternatives available for this structure.
2. The report by Donald Friedman, PE, of Old Structures Engineering.
This firm specializes in the review, stabilization and, when so tasked,
the rehabilitation of historic structures for adaptive reuse.
3. A broad measure of public opinion on the alternative actions on the Records
Building, as assessed through the online survey.
We look forward to learning about the community’s survey assessment.
We concur with the opinions of the State Historic Preservation Office and with Mr. Friedman that the best alternative is #4, Adaptive Reuse, after stabilization in place. The analysis shows that:
1. In the short-term, the Records Building can remain safely protected as needed infrastructure needs are addressed.
2. Over an interim period, the Records Building can be stabilized in its historic
context and setting. The realistic cost estimates for this activity are much lower than those for many other alternatives under discussion.
3. As reuse options are identified and funding levels secured, the stabilized
Records Building may be used for specified activities on a schedule that fits within the broader schedule of development in Hoboken Yards. The level of cost will vary with the level of finish, but the cost estimates are modest and could be covered by a variety of grants available to historic properties.
It is regrettable that the structure has structural issues from the lack of routine upkeep and the impact of Superstorm Sandy. We are delighted that appropriate review by those well-versed in historic preservation and stabilization see a structure that can be protected in the short-term and enhanced for long-term community utilization and appreciation.
We look to you and all involved to move forward on Alternative #4.
Responsible Development Task Force of Hoboken
Melissa Abernathy, On Behalf of the Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition