Cary Africk: Why the South Park Street Project is Costing More

The original cost estimate for the South Park Street project was in error.  That estimate of $750,000 was contradicted by statements of people with knowledge of the design who said that the project never could be completed for less than $1 million.

Indeed, this project was around before the current Town Manager, Marc Dashield. The manager then, Joe Hartnett, stated flat out that the $750,000 number couldn’t be supported.

Yet we insisted on having the Council approve that number.

After the project went out to bid, and the bids came in, it was clear that the skeptics were right.  And a higher amount of $1 million was approved.

So why are we know seeking yet another increase, of $90,000?

Simple. We added:

  • engineering supervision
  • police traffic control
  • remediation for an unknown fuel tank

Anticipating that people would show concern, a “plan” was put on the table to cover that $90K in costs.  That plan would have us not install benches. Sort of like leaving out wings to save money on building an airplane.  And no trash receptacles.  And cutting out the bricks on 1 of the 4 curb cut outs.


And when we go to put in the benches six months down the road it will cost more, and damage the existing, completed work.

Leaving those things out would be a monument to foolishness.

South Park is an easy target. Rather than face the real challenges to the town some want to fool us into an emotional discussion of South Park. Can’t solve the REAL problems with redevelopment? Make an issue of South Park!

It’s politics, folks.  Some people wanting to look good in front of the voters by saying “I’m watching the purse.”

Don’t be fooled.

There is no “slippery slope.”  There is no “mountain” of increasing costs.

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  1. “The manager then, Joe Hartnett, stated flat out that the $750,000 number couldn’t be supported.”

    Yet you Cary said it would cost “$750k. period.” when pressed last July, well into Daschle’s term. What gives? Were you not listening? Or was it more likely to be approved with a rosy, wishful thinking budget?

    “Anticipating that people would show concern, a “plan” was put on the table to cover that $90K in costs. That plan would have us not install benches. Sort of like leaving out wings to save money on building an airplane. And no trash receptacles. And cutting out the bricks on 1 of the 4 curb cut outs.

    Do you really expect us to believe that benches and trash cans were not forseeable in the initial plan?

    Actually, what is “ridiculous” is to leave off the “wings” in the initial budget in the first place, as well as a 10% contingency for unforeseen problems.

    You proposed building an “airplane” with no wings in the budget and now say “oh, well of course we need wings! It would be stupid not to have wings!”

    Frankly, prudent fiscal management would have included engineering supervision, police traffic control and remediation for an unknown fuel tank (as part of a contingency budget item) in the FIRST PLACE!

    Time and time again we’re sold a bill of goods fraught with wishful thinking. It’s why projects just like this one, are often twice (or nearly twice) what the initial rosy scenario anticipated – just like this one.

    It’s emblematic of why our finances are so screwed up. The criticism of the project is valid if only in the hope history will not repeat itself.

    The BS being sold at the current moment is that this $90K of overruns will eventually be “paid back” via fund raising efforts of the BID. Anyone want to bet? When the project is all done, and the $90,000 benches are in place, and the BID’s fundraising (shockingly!) never materializes, we’ll have all been suckers…..yet again.

  2. Property owners near South Park were willing to help pay for the project. Ask Steven Plofker. Of course, why help pay if their are suckers willing to fund all the cost?

  3. I knew this would make your day, ROC.

    This ought to give you enough “food” for the next three months.

  4. Roc has already eaten this and spit it out. There is never enough “food” for one such as he.

  5. Cary,
    I have to respectfully disagree in that South Park is an excellent project to examine our choices, planning, processes and execution.

    For example, we could have had free street lighting, but chose to spend an additional $45,244 for an upgrade.

    DCS had the capital cost for South Park repaving on their schedule, then removed it and said the Township had funded this separately. Apparently, we had not and now have to add it back in.

    We went through a re-design process and specifically cut out the amenities we are adding back in now.

    I agree that this ship has sailed, but the next Council should issue a post-project report with +/- lessons learned and a full reconciliation of costs so that at least our hindsight is 20/20.

    Every new Council has their learning curve. It would be helpful if we could institutionalize the experience gained from this project.

  6. “We went through a re-design process and specifically cut out the amenities we are adding back in now.”

    I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

  7. When the new school was planned, it was supposed to be paid for by the state. When the state school funding program went belly up, Montclair decided to build it anyway.

    When the South Street Upgrade was originally proposed, THE CONSULTANT estimated it could be done for 750K (I was at that upstairs meeting). The justification was two fold. First, it would already cost Montclair a small fortune to repave the road which was much needed. Second, by getting the project done prior to the township-wide property reappraisal, it would recoup it’s cost much more quickly. Now a little over two years later, the cost is much, much more than the original cost of simple repaving and the justification for the return on investment no longer exists.

    And you wonder how every resident in Montclair owes over $7,000 simply to pay off the current capital debt.

    If you weren’t aware, Montclair must get state approval for every new hire. Montclair’s debt rating was downgraded twice during the current council’s term. And the town continues to spend on capital projects small and large with reckless abandon. I didn’t move to Glen Ridge for the supposed better schools. I moved to Glen Ridge to avoid having to pay for the day of reckoning which is sure to come. Think Montclair has fiscal issues now? Just wait until interest rates creep up. Public school class sizes will explode. Cuts to aides healthcare will be the least of your concerns.

    Sure it’s only $1,000,000. But it’s one small step closer to the inevitable embarrassment that Montclair will have to face when the debt issue reaches the tipping point. Yet still, there’s no RFP for outsourced garbage/recycling. We all know that Montclair is an extremely progressive town. Perhaps it’s the most progressive in NJ? How will this look to the cause when the state comes in and takes over! And how will this impact your property values?

  8. I’m still wondering where people are supposed to park when they come swarming into town to shop there. Over half the parking spaces will be removed, and the Plofker parking lot around the corner will be an assisted living center.

    It’s completely implausible that this project will add more revenue to the town.

    Cary, I respect you, but I’ve always been baffled by your support of this project. It’s a “nice-to-have” that would have made sense 20 years ago, not today.

  9. Just being numerate… debt per person
    Montclair $7,000
    Harrisburg $10,000 (they’re in big trouble)
    NJ $4,000
    US $49,000
    Add them up and we’re each, every one of us, in Montclair, NJ in for $60k.

  10. Wow,

    A government project with overruns and add ons…

    The problem with this project is not the cost associated or the reasoning behind it. It is simply not reasonable to bond/borrow money for beautification when we have limited resources. If anyone thinks this type of project is a priority for the town, they are not credible to hold elected office in these austere times, in my opinion.

    Every town should want to build more pedestrian friendly areas in its business district, but how can you add debt when its the possible cause of the upcoming calamity that will burden this town’s budgets for the next 40 years.

  11. Have the foresight to build parks and walkways and keep Americans fit, healthy and a non-burden on our medical system.

    or, after the fact, treat diabetes, hypertension and obesity as Americans can’t even roll up their car window or change the channel on their TV without the amazing innovation of a little electric switch.

    Which American legacy makes you more proud?

  12. “Have the foresight to build parks and walkways and keep Americans fit, healthy and a non-burden on our medical system.”

    You are something else, Spiro. This morning a paved parking lot is Central Park and this afternoon South Park Street is the cure for diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

  13. Cary – am i mistaken in my memory on this? When the project was first discussed you posted on one of these sites that since we had to repave South Park anyway at considerable cost (which may have involved upgrading the sewers too) that for a bit more we could get this done. Do I also recall mention that there was state grant money available to help offset the cost? Am i mixing up the projects?

    Seems like from day one everyone with a keyboard was saying this would cost more than $1MM and that we didn’t have the money right now to do it. You were a staunch defender for the reasons (at least the “we have to repave” reason) above. You were elected to make these decisions and have defended this one from the start. When you say, “The manager then, Joe Hartnett, stated flat out that the $750,000 number couldn’t be supported. Yet we insisted on having the Council approve that number.” Then before work started the council approved the $1MM number anyway. Are you acknowledging that this was the wrong move right? Or are you saying that it’s still the right move even with the cost overruns? Not trying to Monday morning QB, but don’t understand the point of this article from you.

  14. Dear late,

    I think the loss of parking spaces is very small — perhaps 4 of twenty? I’ll check.

  15. South Park needed $300K in paving.

    The State gave us the LAST of interest free loans — $500K.

  16. Cary, spaces will be reduced from 29 to 14. I am there every day, and you already can’t park in that area.

    I don’t believe this project will pay for itself, and we cannot afford it.

  17. RoC,
    Reading your 2009 comment, would the traffic light proposed in 2012 for Midland & Bloomfield really cost $400,000 (assuming the paint job is throw in)?

  18. This project strikes me as insane. Isn’t one of the main reasons for Montclair storefront vacancies that rents are too high for small businesses? The town hopes to increase ratables by doing this, yet it adds to the debt which will raise property taxes and rents.

    Financial distress is making me feel tawdry. I look worn & my clothes are threadbare. I think I’ll go to Barneys & put a new outfit on my card.

  19. Exactly, Kit. Plus they are assuming that the properties will be more valuable, which means the property taxes will go up, and this increase will be passed along to the already overtaxed shop renters who will have to raise their prices even more. Colanders will now be $400 instead of $300, and jeans $250 instead of $150. It’s too expensive to shop locally as it is.

  20. Kit, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

    There’s much that’s insane about what’s been going on in Montclair over the past few years. There’s lots of hope. Never any real accounting behind these decisions. They hope the values will go up and they’ll be able to additional tax revenues from this improvement. Will they, how will that impact businesses, is it a good idea to lose all those parking spaces, why are we adding to our debt? It’s endless.

    They’re going to give a developer variances and tax breaks to build an assisted living center there. They “think/hope” this will generate revenue for the town. No concrete numbers again. There are plenty of other facilities that have been established for years and maybe they should do a little research? Nah.

    They hope the parking authority will improve – because it’s been a losing venture for years.

    I could go on.

    I’m going to join you at Barney’s.

  21. BTW, that campaign ad popping up as I log into baristanet is quite intrusive and makes me feel even less like voting for that slate than I already do.

  22. it clearly seems that it would be best to just halt and do nothing more than just repairing the asphalt and road surface. Improvement projects could be evaluated when it is economically feasible to do so. The right time will hopefully come …and its clearly not now.

    If the assisted living facility is the only proposal right now…..WAIT….its not a good enough use for that space and it will not help the life of Montclair Center…it would actually tone the atmosphere down too much. Its a possibility but a bad fit. JUST WAIT! The Hahnes Building just sitting there like a paper weight was MUCH better than any of the new additions or intended improvements.

  23. Fortunately, it seems that there is a renaissance of awareness and transparency coming forth within the community. People are waking up and doing arithmetic. Very probably there will be an entire new group of elected officials that will put things in order and into a better place. (we hope for this at every election time) (look at East Orange….their re development is so successful and incumbents get re elected because they do good successful work)

    Scrap any re development plans, none of them are good enough…in fact…the proposals are really bad…REALLY BAD. TRULY

    Don’t do anything….it would be MUCH BETTER….and probably the only affordable solution.

    Call for a moratorium on improvements unless there is an emergency…there is no money anyway…and no intelligent feasible solutions to improve Montclair Center on the table…..YET.

  24. Call me herbeverschmel. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money left in my purse after paying my property tax, and nothing particular to interest me at Watchung Plaza, I thought I would stroll about a little and see the less beautified streets of our berg. I arrived at South Park and spied a sea captain standing, one foot on a hydrant in the middle of the street a pen raised, harpoon like over his shoulder.

    He was Captain Africk, he bellowed like a raging tempest, “Oh! ye unsurrendered ratables of mine; thou unsundered budget; and only god-bullied RFP; thou firm 750,000, and haughty municipal bond, and Pen-pointed prow,–death-glorious enterprise! must ye then perish, and without me? Am I cut off from the last fond pride of the meanest of the outgoing councilors? Oh, lonely death on lonely life! Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief… Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unfinished renovation! To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I justify thee; for my legacy’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all naysayers and all ROC’s to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned project! Thus, I give up the spear!”

  25. Kit – I guess you and I live in a town well-suited to our tastes…

    JG – I love your “thinkhope”, I’m gonna steal it!

  26. Come to Bloomfield and see our $5Million+ hole in the ground that our polititions are calling “downtown redevelopment” or better yet to Belleville Ave where each time I see the project at Oakes Pond it grows larger and will put more traffic on a street that already has traffic at a standstill not to mention putting hundreds of new kids in our already overcrowded schools (we already have trailers as classrooms at several schools).

    Oh wait- you don’t have to come to Bloomfield you can experience this particular project as the possibly toxic dust it has created blows accress the GSP and Foley Field where our kids play.

    Oh I guess I should have mentioned the 30 YEAR TAX ABATEMENT that this developer has been generously given.

    See Montclair – it could be worse!

  27. When discussions happen on the South Park work, it is always brought up that we now have a better place that we can tax at a higher rate. Did I get that right? So if that is true, why does so much property sit empty on Bloomfield Avenue for such long periods of time? Do developers/landlords get lower tax rates when their property is empty? I would doubt that is true but it is puzzling that we really don’t get good growth downtown when so much sits available. Is that greed on the building owners part? Bad economy? No one is interested? Higher rents even though the property has been empty for years and years? As for South Park I ask this question in conjunction with that. It now costs more and all is based upon, I believe, that looks will draw people for better commerce and we can tax those around it at a higher rate because their property taxes will go up. Do I have that correct?

  28. Claremont, I once read they do get lower tax rates when the property is empty, which makes no sense to me. Grabowsky owns a great deal of the empty buildings on Bloomfield Ave., and I suspect he is asking for too much rent. Didn’t he have a vision of turning Bloomfield Ave. into Short Hills mall? Guess he’s stilll waiting for those upscale retailers to swarm in.

  29. South Park is not being developed for higher tax rates, but for the simulacrum of higher tax rates. The difference between the two is that one exists in reality, the other in thin air.

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