RED BANK PUTS PARKING DECK IN GEAR

white-st-lot-102011The White Street lot is an “underutilized” asset and needs a garage, says Mayor Pasquale Menna. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic rightA year after reopening of one of Red Bank’s most controversial questions – whether to build a parking garage in the heart of downtown – Mayor Pasquale Menna is planning to throw things into gear next year.

Menna tells redbankgreen that he plans to appoint up to three professionals with expertise in redevelopment – a lawyer, a planner and an architect – to give town officials guidance on the ins and outs of getting a parking deck built on the site of the White Street municipal lot.

Though several informal proposals have been quietly floated past elected officials, Menna says the moves are not motivated by any individual plan or developer. Rather, he said he’s acting because it’s time for the town to make better use of an “underutilized” asset.

“What’s driving this is the realization that we’re sitting on an enormous amount of possible benefit for the taxpayers that’s been underutilized,” he said Wednesday. “You don’t just sit on something that was developed more than half a century ago. You’ve got to look at these things in a new light.”

Despite the use of the term “redevelopment” in the titles of the professionals being sought, Menna said the borough will not condemn or take any private property for the garage, which would be built on the 2.4 acres owned by the town. The borough council several years ago adopted a resolution barring condemnation for redevelopment.

The professionals, who would be paid from the parking utility fund, Menna said, are to “give guidance” on what might be built in conjunction with a multilevel parking facility.

“I don’t think you’re going to get a garage without another component,” whether it be offices, retail, housing or entertainment uses, he said.

Menna said his own inclination is to oppose any ideas involving either residential or office uses.

Proposals for a garage on the White Street property have been floated twice in the past decade, and both proved highly controversial, with many merchants in favor and residents opposed. Both times, Menna, then a councilman, opposed the plans because, he said, they would saddle residents, rather than investors, with $8 million or more in debt.

Menna restarted talk of a garage nearly a year ago, when he said he was “sticking his neck out” by reviving the issue and would appoint a committee to review the town’s options. No such committee was appointed, however.

Menna said again Wednesday that he is adamant that the taxpayers not bear the cost of the garage.

A legal notice seeking requests for proposals from professionals has been published, with a deadline of December 15. Menna said he expects to make the appointments on January 1 at the town government reorganization, though he said it remains to be seen if both the architect and planner need to be hired.