RED BANK: RIVERCENTER RAPPED ON PARKING

RiverCenter’s founding chairman wants the agency to help finance a second garage to go along with the Globe Street facility, above, which is leased to Riverview Medical Center. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

A discussion of Red Bank RiverCenter‘s 2017 budget Wednesday night focused mostly on how much juice the downtown promotion agency is using to address a parking shortfall.

At the borough council’s semimonthly meeting, two past RiverCenter chairmen suggested the answer is “not enough.”

Up for its annual review by the governing body, the budget showed no change for the ninth straight year in the funds collected from downtown landlords via a special assessment, totaling $512,120, said executive director Jim Scavone. The council gave the plan unanimous approval.

First, though, several audience members rose to both praise the agency and call it out for what they cited as a shortcoming: failure to use its financial clout to address the parking issue.

“The SID [special improvement district] should do a lot more when it comes to our parking problem,” said landlord John Bowers, who was RiverCenter’s founding chairman for three years starting in 1991. “It can borrow money, it can enter into contracts.”

Bowers has been lobbying for the borough to build a “pure” parking garage on its 2.3-acre White Street lot, without involving private developers or including either housing or new commercial space. Instead, under a borough-crafted redevelopment plan aimed at enticing a private developer to create a 773-vehicle garage on the site of the White Street municipal lot, a request for proposals by developers has been issued by the council, with plans due for submission by April 7.

“If the RFP does not work, and I don’t think it will, I don’t see any reason why the SID can’t step up to the plate and get this built,” said Bowers. “I think the SID is the way home.”

Architect Mike Simpson, another founding member and past chairman of RiverCenter, told the council that a parking solution was the only remaining item on the original checklist of major objectives from the organization’s start.

“I find it troubling that there’s zero in RiverCenter’s budget for parking initiatives,” he said.

The organization’s leaders “should take a real serious look to see what RiverCenter can do to help,” he said.

Scavone did not directly address Bowers’ critique, though in the past he has said that RiverCenter “can’t be paying for the garage or anything close to that,” though he would support the agency providing a “minor subsidy.”

As to Simpson’s comments, Scavone said that under “a very generous deal” with Riverview Medical Center, the SID controls 40 parking spaces in the 80-space surface lot behind the Globe Street Garage, which the hospital itself controls under a longterm lease-purchase agreement with the borough.

RiverCenter sells permits to its spaces to downtown merchants, generating about $24,000 a year for the agency’s operating budget, some of which is directed to parking-related solutions such as signage, maps and other materials, Scavone told redbankgreen.

In addition, he said, RiverCenter has a capital budget whose funds could be available for large-scale projects, including a parking solution. The account has about $150,000 in it, he said.

“We’re not talking about a fortune here,” he said.

Here’s the budget: Red Bank RiverCenter 2017 Budget 030917 The council votes only on the portion related to the assessment on commercial properties in the special improvement district.

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