FOOD FESTIVAL MAY RETURN TO MARINE PARK

marine-park1Marine Park will play host to some sort of summer event next year, officials say. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Business owners and Red Bank officials are in talks to bring back large-scale summer entertainment to Marine Park, the site of a nearly completed sprucing-up job that drove out the Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival for this year’s edition, redbankgreen has learned.

At the top of the wish list: reviving the music expo’s predecessor, a food-oriented event called Riverfest, says George Lyristis, owner of The Bistro at Red Bank.

“We’re in the talking phase,” Lyristis said. “It’s my intention to do anything to make it local again.”

marine-parkWorkers at Marine Park last week put the finishing touches on the park’s bulkhead renovation project. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

That doesn’t mean the door is completely shut on bringing back the music festival, which was renamed the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Fest and relocated to Monmouth Park racetrack for next month’s annual edition because major construction at the park couldn’t be guaranteed to be finished in time for the June event.

But now that the park work is nearing completion — borough engineer Christine Ballard says fingers are crossed for Memorial Day weekend — it’s time to set the wheels in motion for 2011 plans, say some business owners who’ve been unhappy with the music fest.

Town officials, however, aren’t saying much about where talks stand.

“We’re proceeding for plans for next year,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said. “We are going to have a festival next year.” Menna said he’d like to keep it music-oriented.

Riverfest, which spent years at Marine Park before the Jazz & Blues Foundation took over, was a combination of music and food offerings beneath summer sunshine. But as the event morphed into more of a music colossus, it became dominated, foodwise, by out-of-town and traveling vendors who, locals say, siphoned off business from downtown restaraunts for the duration of the three-day event.

Lyristis says Riverfest was more of a local affair than Jazz & Blues, and that’s what business owners want to get back to.

“There’s discussion among the restaurants about basically bring back Riverfest or something (like it),” said Nancy Adams, executive director of downtown promotion agency Red Bank RiverCenter. She added that there’s no consensus on how long to make the festival or what particular weekend to hold it. “That’s it. We haven’t sat down and discussed anything about the logistics.”

Nobody’s talked about the future with Jazz & Blues organizers, either. Not that now’s the time to do it, anyway, as they’re busy gearing up for their debut at Monmouth Park, where the event has been scaled back to two days, June 5 & 6. The festival’s chief organizer, Dennis Eschbach, hasn’t had any contact with Red Bank lately, he said.

“I have not even thought about 2011,” he said.

The festival, he said, has always been a year-to-year proposition requiring borough approval, which typically was sought in August.

Lyristis tells redbankgreen that locals are looking at every season of 2011. The goal is to have some sort of event at Marine Park for winter, spring, summer and fall, he said. Adams has already confirmed that RiverCenter is looking at having an oyster festival in the fall, but ideas for other events are still in the works, Lyristis said.

Meantime, it looks like the $3.5 million, year-long bulkhead reconstruction at Marine Park is finally wrapping up. Barring any bumps in state inspections at the site, Menna confirmed Ballard’s target date of Memorial Day to have the work complete. State and Monmouth County grants covered $2.4 million of the cost.

Work started  last summer on the project, which called for the installation of new sidewalks, rails and lighting, to go along with the new steel bulkhead and a rebuilt horseshoe-shaped municipal marina, Ballard said.

“Basically it’s almost done,” she said, and the next step is to get through final inspections of the work.