By JOHN T. WARD
Everybody’s got an opinion. But does anyone have a solid, workable idea for the former Liberty Hose Company firehouse’s second act?
The owners of the 103-year building at 40 White Street in Red Bank are open to suggestions, says John Morgan, who along with his brother and father, both named Michael, bought the two-story, red brick structure from the borough earlier this year for $400,000.
“This is such a unique building that you want something that’s going to fit its persona,” Morgan told redbankgreen on a recent tour of the property. And the family is committed to “local.,” he said. “We don’t want somebody from New York to come in.”
Morgan said he’d been approached by people interested in renting the space for a liquor store – there’s one just a few doors east – or a bakery. But he’s looking for something that will leverage the history and character of the building, as well as its location in he heart of the downtown, he said.
redbankgreen‘s unoriginal idea: a barbecue restaurant. It should even be called Liberty Hose BBQ, in our humble opinion, to honor the volunteer Liberty Hose fire company, the only tenant the building has ever had. The company, which vacated the space (or was evicted by the borough, depending on who’s talking) last November, moved in with the Red Bank First Aid Squad, on Spring Street.
“We were looking at something like the Salty Dog” firehouse-themed restaurant chain, and a business like that, with a liquor license, would be be a good match, Morgan said. “But you need to have that person who’s interested.”
Whatever goes in there, it will benefit from the presence of the White Street municipal lot directly across the street. The Bow Tie Cinemas movie theater is next door, and the property is partly surrounded by a vacant lot approved for 27 condos that could supply some customers, if it’s ever built. Nothing’s happened in the six years since the plan was greenlighted, though.
The firehouse has a good-sized kitchen on the first floor. The second floor could make a nice catering hall, he said. No, there’s no pole that firemen would use to get downstairs quickly.
The property is zoned “Central Commercial District 2,” which allows a wide range of uses. Tattoo parlors and massage parlors, however, are verboten.
What does Morgan dream of for the space?
“Something uniquely Red Bank,” he said. “National tenants are great, but at the same time, we want it to fit in with the town. Someplace that people will say, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s son opened a restaurant there –let’s try that.’ To keep it local that way.”
That’s why he invited redbankgreen to tour the building, he said: to put the word out to local entrepreneurs who have a vision that fits in with the property.
Morgan said he’s thinking of having an open house to give volunteer firefighters, their relatives and town residents a chance to give it a last once-over before it gets converted to a business. We’ll keep readers posted on that.