By JOHN T. WARD
The new owners of the former Liberty Hose Company firehouse on White Street hope to convert the 105-year-old building into a restaurant, with two luxury apartments upstairs.
Mike Morgan Jr., who along with his father and brothers bought the two-story, red brick structure from the borough in 2014 for $400,000, told redbankgreen that while there’s been a lot of “kicking the tires,” no lease has yet been signed for a restaurant. But the Morgans are hoping to clear a path for whomever they might bring in as a tenant.
Prospective restaurant tenants “have been very apprehensive about the process of getting something approved, and I don’t blame them,” given the expense and uncertainty of the change-of-use process, he said. “So we figured, let us undertake that on our dime, and then do a build-out” for a specific tenant.
The property is zoned “Central Commercial District 2,” which allows a wide range of uses, including restaurants.
Should the change-of-use be approved but no restaurant materialize as a tenant, converting the space to retail use would be less of a challenge, Morgan said.
In addition, Morgan said, he and his family are hoping to win approval for the two second-floor apartments so those tenants could be moved in before a first-floor tenancy begins.
Concept drawings prepared by Mike Simpson on borough-based SOME Architects show that the narrow, red brick structure would be preserved, complete with arched windows and garage door frame, and only cosmetic alterations to the exterior.
The Bow Tie Cinemas movie theater is next door, and the property is partly surrounded by a vacant lot fronting at 55 West Front Street where a new 35-unit apartment building is proposed. A zoning board hearing on the proposal, which has been dormant since last September, was to have been held Thursday night but was postponed.
The Morgan’s proposal is slated to be heard by the planning board at 7 p.m. on March 7.
Liberty Hose fire company, one of six volunteer fire squads in town, was one of three housed in borough-owned properties (the others own their own houses). But Liberty was forced to relocate when borough officials decided to sell the property, citing the expense of needed upgrades. The company now shares space with the Navesink Hose Company on Mechanic Street.