An exhibit showed the layout of the Jetsun proposal superimposed an aerial view of the park. Below, MPAC principals Phil Flego, Gayle Horvath and Sandy Talarico make their pitch. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
What should be done with the hurricane-damaged red clay tennis courts at Red Bank’s riverfront Marine Park?
For almost three hours Thursday night, area residents offered opinions and teased out details of three formal proposals: one that calls for restoring the courts with a $500,000 donation by a Locust resident, and two that envision real estate development of river-oriented activity centers.
Each had its advocates and opponents, and none appeared to have won the hearts of all 120 people in attendance.
It also served up few surprises for attendees who’ve read the plans, submitted in April in response to a borough government request for proposals issued amid discussions over whether to convert at least one of the courts to a dog run.
The three pitches are:
• One by a startup business, Jetsun Enterprises, in partnership with builder Lucas Construction, for a $3.5 million multiuse facility offering miniature golf, a miniature artificial-ice rink and rentals of canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.
The project, called Red Bank Harbor, calls for 7,500 square feet of one-story structures lining the western edge of the park, adjacent to the Monmouth Boat Club, and covered in solar panels.
Here are the details of the project: Red Bank Harbor RFP 041515
• A five-year plan by “locals who want to share our love of the river,” in the words of one, to establish and grow a water-oriented Marine Park Activity Center that incorporates the water sports, environmental education and history appreciation objectives of the Navesink River Rowing club and the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association – though neither of those two groups is formally affiliated with the proposal.
A catering hall in a 20,000-square-foot building is envisioned, though that operation was only included in the proposal “because we inferred from the request for proposals that Red Bank was looking for revenue,” said MPAC principal Sandy Talarico. But the four members of the group, which is seeking not-for-profit tax status, “just want to run programs” that promote an appreciation of the Navesink River, she said.
Here’s the MPAC proposal: MPAC RFP 041515
Both the Jetsun and MPAC proposals are contingent on the developers entering into a lease agreement with the town for the courts site, which abuts the Navesink River in the park.
• An offer by 77-year-old money manager and tennis fan Jim Cullen of $500,000 to refurbish the tennis courts and provide long-term financing for their management and instruction programs.
The operation would charge unspecified user fees, though the courts would be free to children under 17 and to senior citizens, with reduced fees for borough residents.
Here’s the Cullen proposal: Cullen RFP 041515
Here’s a sampling of the comments and questions aired during Thursday’s event, moderated by Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer:
• Kate Triggiano pressed Jetsun partners on the long-term viability of miniature golf and an artificial ice rink, and the likelihood of those features attracting return customers.
“We’re trying to create a community gathering spot,” said Jetsun principal Doug Booton.
“But I’m not ‘gathering’ for miniature golf every day,” Triggiano replied.
• Rich Nicoletti, who managed the tennis courts for decades, defended the facility as rare place in town for people 60 and older to get exercise. That prompted Talerico, a member of the Navesink River Rowing Club, to note that the majority of NRR members are 50-plus, many having taken up the sport well into adulthood.
• Keith May of Spinnaker Lane, asked: “Where is the infrastructure in Red Bank to allow for the passage of traffic?”
• At least two residents of the Union Street Condos on nearby Wharf Avenue raised concerns about the impact of the projects on their river views. One of them, Shelley Davimos, may have gotten the biggest applause of the night when, pointing to Cullen in the front row, said, “let’s take his money.”
• Chris Paseka, owner of the five-year-old downtown cupcake shop Sugarush, praised each of the proposals, but came down in favor of Jetsun.
“The biggest problem we find is that there’s nothing for parents to do with the kids, nothing to do in this town other than shop and eat,” he said. “Walking to the river is not an activity for children.”
Paseka was also one of several commenters to suggest that what MPAC wants to do might find a place under the umbrella of the Jetsun proposal.
• Gayle Horvath and Linda Ensor of MPAC pressed the concept of teaching rowing to children, senior citizens and the physically challenged. “We believe that people on the water, they will learn to become stewards of the river,” Horvath said.
• “My concern with all these proposals has to do with equity,” said Fred Stone, a McLaren Street resident and board of education member. Fees charged for activities “might not be trivial for many Red Bankers.”
• Steve Hecht, of Branch Avenue, directed a “rhetorical” question to the borough council, four of whose members were in attendance: “Why would you give away this gem to a profit-making organization?” he asked, referring to Jetsun.
Jetsun’s Booton noted that the proposal calls for a 25-year lease, under which the town would collect $75,000 a year in rent.
Hecht, an avid tennis player, also told Cullen, “I don’t believe we should have a tennis ‘club’ in this lovely spot,” and pressed the Locust resident on whether he would be willing to make his donation if the courts were open to all, as they are in Eastside Park.
“I’m open to that,” Cullen said.
• Ira Friedman,of Ambassador Drive, called Cullen’s plan the only “sure thing” of the three pitches. “I view the other proposals as start-ups,” he said. “There’s a high risk, and this town can’t afford a lot of high risk.”
Talarico responded that NRR has been in operation for 30 years, and NMHA for 14. “There’s no lack of business acumen among the people running these organizations,” she said “They’re successful.”
• Tom Labetti, of Elm Place, called on the council to start from scratch and request proposals that address the entirety of Marine Park, not just the tennis courts. The five-acre site is more asphalt than grass, he said in a letter he sent to town officials earlier this week.
Here’s Labetti’s letter: labetti marine park letter 052615
• Schwabenbauer, the council liaison to the parks and recreation committee, said the volunteer body is reviewing the proposals and will take all the comments and questions into consideration.
Then she and council colleagues Kathy Horgan and Ed Zipprich will confer to evaluate the proposals according to a scoring system and make a recommendation to the full council, Schwabenbauer told the audience. “My goal is to get that done as fast as possible,” she said.
Here’s the comment form for anyone wishing to weigh in on the matter: RB Marine Park Proposal Comment