By JOHN T. WARD
All three private-sector proposals for the future of Red Bank’s hurricane-damaged Marine Park clay tennis courts should be rejected, a triumverate of borough council members is expected to say in a report next week.
The recommendation to the full council is being made in spite of the fact that one pitch, by startup Jetsun Enterprises, was far and away the winner on paper. But in the court of public opinion, it was over the line, Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer told redbankgreen on Monday.
Schwabenbauer said she had reviewed about 100 emails, letters and comments in other forms expressing “concern” about the ambitious Jetsun proposal, which called for the partnership to lease the riverfront red clay courts site from the town and build a $3.5 million multiuse facility offering miniature golf, a miniature artificial-ice rink and rentals of canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.
A competing plan, from a group billing itself as the Marine Park Activity Center, involved building a conventional boathouse with a catering facility at the site. Under the third plan submitted in response to a borough-issued Request for Proposals earlier this year, tennis enthusiast Jim Cullen of Locust said he would donate $500,000 to restore and upgrade the courts and provide a budget for maintenance.
Going by the RFP criteria “led us to to score the Jetsun proposal the highest,” Schwabenbauer said. “I think anybody who sat down and looked at the criteria and the three proposals would have come to the same conclusion. It’s just math.”
But “the people really don’t want to do it,” she said of the Jetsun plan. “So the thing is, if you’re not going to do Jetsun, you kind of have to cancel the whole RFP process. And to do that, you have to formally reject all three proposals.”
To go with one of the two other bidders would invite a lawsuit by Jetsun, she said. “I don’t even know if it’s legal” to award the project to the competing bidders in light of the criteria, she said.
Both the volunteer, advisory Parks and Recreation committee and the council triumverate of Schwabenbauer, Kathy Horgan and Ed Zipprich came to the conclusion: that the Jetsun proposal won on points.
In fact, the volunteer committee was “very excited about the Jetsun proposal, because they thought it had a lot of potential to do a lot of good things for the town,” said Schwabenhauer, who said she was present for the committee’s deliberations as a note-taker but not a participant.
But weighing the scoring against the public sentiment led to another conclusion, she said.
“A lot of people were very concerned about it, and taking that into account, we were just at a point where we said, ‘Well, we can’t do Jetsun,'” she said.
Schwabenbauer said the trio of council members received a “handful” of written endorsements for the Jetsun plan. But they were persuaded that the majority sentiment was against it.
“We kept this open as long as we could, and possibly longer than we should have,” she said of the comment period. “I try not to be swayed by just a few voices. I try to look for a broader voice in the residents, and I think I’ve heard it at this point.”
Anthony Jude Setaro, a principal in Jetsun, declined comment. “We still haven’t heard anything official,” he said in an email. “When an actual decision is rendered, which I’m assuming would be at the next council meeting, we will comment.”
Schwabenbauer said the triumverate plans to submit a formal recommendation of rejection in time for the next council meeting, scheduled for on Monday, November 9 — changed from its customary Wednesday slot because November 11 is Veterans Day.
After that, Schwabenbauer said, the parks and rec committee will “regroup” to discuss what to do about the unplayable tennis courts, a discussion she said will be enhanced by now having a better sense of what the public does and does not want to happen there.
In the meantime, the borough will re-start the process of finding a contractor to rebuild a sewer pump station that was knocked out of commission by Hurricane Sandy and has since been razed, and to make other infrastructure repairs that will be paid for by a FEMA grant, she said.