Tricia Rumola, a borough native who rose from college intern to executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter and helped solidify its national reputation in the realm of downtown revitalizations, is leaving the organization at the end of the month.

Rumola tells redbankgreen that she’s taken a job with a hunger-fighting non-profit in New York City that she declined to name. There, she’ll work in fundraising and other aspects of development.

“There’s no other place in New Jersey I’d rather work than Red Bank,” Rumola says. But it’s time to move on to a new challenge, she says.

“It’s bittersweet,” Rumola says of the change. “I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve developed a lot of friendships through RiverCenter, and those will continue. But it’s a time that I really need to grow personally and professionally, and this will help me on my merry way.”

Rumola’s departure comes just as the Special Improvement District that RiverCenter has overseen since 1991 is being expanded from the downtown to embrace businesses in the northwest quadrant of the borough.

Designated by the borough to manage the SID, RiverCenter is a non-profit entity that promotes the business district as a destination for shoppers and coordinates downtown events such as the annual sidewalk sale and holiday tree lighting. It gets its funding from a tax on businesses located within zone.

With the expansion, the organization’s budget has grown 40 percent, to $604,000, from $434,000. Levies on affected businesses on the West Side kicked in this month.

Rumola is one of only two paid RiverCenter staffers — the other is director of operations Harriet Cook — and the organization’s work is largely handled by committees of volunteer retailers, restaurateurs and other business owners.

Mary Eileen Fouratt, RiverCenter chairperson, says she’s forming a subcommittee to find a replacement for Rumola. Requests for resumes are being distributed among downtown associations, graduate schools of planning and related markets for candidates. The executive director’s salary isn’t publicly disclosed, but Fouratt said it will have to reflect the new executive’s level of experience.

“Oh, please don’t make me cry,” Fouratt said when redbankgreen called to ask her about Rumola’s departure. “She’s just an amazingly brilliant, talented person. She was just the perfect person at the perfect time to run RiverCenter.”

Rumola was born at Riverview Medical Center and graduated from Red Bank Catholic High School at a time when the downtown was at an economic nadir. She recalled for New Jersey Monthly magazine earlier this year that the arrival of No Ordinary Joe’s coffee shop was seen as “so exciting” by the school’s students.

As a student at Monmouth University in the mid-1990s, she worked as a RiverCenter intern, and while wrapping up her master’s work in urban planning at New York University five years ago she returned to work for the organization. She was named executive director in November, 2003, when she was just 25 years old.

By then, the downtown recovery was well underway. Since then, RiverCenter has been repeatedly singled out by planning experts as an example of how towns might leverage their resources to succeed, first against a glut of malls, and more recently, against other small cultural and shopping hubs.

Earlier this year, a poll by Monmouth University and New Jersey Monthly found that Red Bank was the favorite downtown destination in central New Jersey.

While eager to fill Rumola’s position, Fouratt says RiverCenter is in no rush. With the West Side coming online, Fouratt said Rumola’s departure creates an opportunity for the organization to reflect on where it’s been and where it’s going. She dismissed a suggestion that its work downtown might be substantially complete. “You always have to stay a few steps ahead” of the competition, she said.

Stephen Raciti, a local architect who serves on RiverCenter’s visual improvement committee, says the timing of Rumola’s departure means her successor “will have to get up to speed that much faster.”

He also said Rumola “has a knack for being highly organized” and leaves a void as “a calming and steadying hand in helping guide RiverCenter” in recent years.

Rumola said she sees her new job as a reflection of her values.

“I can’t seem myself working for an organization that I don’t feel near and dear to me, and that’s the direction I’m going to go in,” she said. “That’s the big thing with me — I’m very cause-oriented and believe in giving back, and non-profits do that. I try to align myself with those that are a real reflection of who I am.”

RiverCenter’s next board meeting is at Sept. 10, 5:30p, at the Merrill Lynch building on Broad Street.

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