The Siena at Montclair - Siena Residents Will Enjoy Easy Commute To Manhattan

Inn-amored: Officials optimistic as hotel plans take shape
By DAN PROCHILO AND ERICA ZARRA
of The Montclair Times

Thursday, November 09, 2006 - Come back and talk to us in a month.

That, more or less, was all the two developers drawing up plans for a hotel on the Church Street parking lot had to say of their ambitions last week.

One of them, Steven Plofker, whose résumé includes the demolition of The Marlboro Inn formerly at Grove Street’s intersection with Watchung Avenue and, more recently, the acquisition of the Wellmont Theater on Seymour Street, declined to comment on the still-preliminary hotel idea.

His partner, John Cali, said over the phone this past Friday that although “people are very excited about the hotel,” the plans haven’t been settled and he’s not ready to discuss them yet, either.

When would they be ready?

They’ll certainly be farther along come Dec. 5, when Mayor Ed Remsen said the developers have arranged to attend a pre-meeting session with the Township Council to go over “what their thinking is at this point, the kind of companies that have expressed an interest in it.”

The discussion that day will not be completely foreign to Remsen, or several other political and business leaders in town who’ve been informally briefed about what might be coming.

The response from some of the major players who’ve seen the preview seems to be a thumbs-up so far.

Remsen said Montclair is in need of a hotel.

“Oh, absolutely,” said the mayor. “I think it has been needed for awhile. People say The Marlboro Inn didn’t work out, but that’s apples and oranges. The timing is right. There’s retail, entertainment, restaurants. Hotels have expressed interest in Montclair. We have everything their customers want.

“To me, this is the last big piece,” Remsen said. “We have capital improvements, historic designations, the BID [Business Improvement District] in place, more retail. And now we have the hotel.”

Councilman Jerold Freier, who represents the 3rd Ward, the area of town where the building would be constructed, said wherever it is built, the hotel will benefit all of Montclair “in that it will bring in additional customers, and not send more children to our schools.”

Freier said he also favored the plan since it would provide property tax revenue, thereby reducing homeowners’ tax burden, and he predicted a Montclair hotel would thrive.

“I think the 60 restaurants in Montclair, all of the movie theaters, and the museum clearly indicate it is a destination for a large part of western Essex County,” Freier said. “If we were to have an upscale hotel, it would attract good business for weddings, bar mitzvahs and business meetings.” The hotel would also provide convenient travel to and from Manhattan, he said.

Tom Lonergan, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, said Montclair has long been in need of a first-rate hotel. Hotels in neighboring municipalities, such as the Marriott in West Orange, are doing well. And with the population density in the district, its general business climate and the proximity of Montclair State University, the area is capable of supporting a hotel, Lonergan said.

“We love the idea of a hotel in that location,” he said. “It would benefit the business community in Montclair Center greatly.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Nick Lewis, a member of the board of the Unitarian Church of Montclair, the hotel site’s next-door neighbor to the west, agreed with Lonergan that Montclair needs a hotel. Lewis said there seem to be few, if any, places in town or in the immediate vicinity where visitors from afar can stay the night.

That doesn’t mean the church is without its reservations about the project, however.

When rumors about a hotel first emerged years ago, Lewis said the church board was planning to convene a special committee to look at the issue and attend public hearings on it.

But neither the committee nor the hearings it was to frequent ever materialized, and the hotel plan seemed to simply “evaporate,” to the congregation’s relief, said Lewis.

“It just sort of died,” he said.

Now that it’s again the talk of the town, the qualms about the idea will no doubt be resurrected, too. High on the list was the loss of the Church Street parking lot, which contains 107 numbered spaces, some of which are reserved. Lewis said that between his Unitarian congregation and Christ Church, right across the street from the parking area, not to mention restaurant patrons, “this thing is packed.”

Montclair Parking Authority Director John Teubner said municipal officials have always known the use of the Church Street lot as parking was a temporary arrangement, and that the site would eventually be built upon.

“We anticipated this when The Crescent Deck was built. It was taken into consideration that the lot would be gone at some point,” he said. “It’s been on the horizon for quite a while.”

Until the lot gets turned into the footprint of a building, though, Teubner said it would be used as parking. Along with the other lots and decks throughout Montclair, the MPA will be assuming responsibility for maintaining it and collecting the fees it reaps at the beginning of 2007.

Teubner said the last he heard about the hotel was eight months to a year ago, and back then, the story went that the developers were planning to provide either a deck or an underground parking garage for the hotel to avoid adding to the parking demand in town.

To Lewis, it would be bad enough if the Church Street lot vanished. He had less faith than the MPA director that all the displaced vehicles could fit into The Crescent Deck.

In addition to that worry, the church board has feared the construction work could shake and perhaps damage the Unitarian Church’s sanctuary, which dates to the early 1900s and is separated from the proposed hotel site by a narrow driveway and hedges.

After all was said and done, the board wondered if the new hotel would dwarf the sanctuary, thereby cutting off light, air, the view of the sky from the church building and the view of the church’s historic architecture from the street.

But at this point, it seems premature to start either the party or the war. Not only has the plan not been publicly unveiled but it also faces review by the Planning Board, if not other local governing bodies, as well.

Similar to the Siena luxury condominiums going up at the corner of Church and South Park streets and to The Crescent Deck, the Church Street lot where the hotel would be put up already has a redevelopment plan, Planning Director Karen Kadus said.

If Plofker and Cali’s concept deviates from that pre-set plan, Kadus said they will then need to seek approvals from multiple municipal boards.

Contact Dan Prochilo at prochilo@montclairtimes.com and Erica Zarra at zarra@montclairtimes.com


 

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