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RED BANK: ICE CREAM VENDOR TO RUN STAND

rb-rgpark-090513-500x375-2288770In recent years, the Riverside Gardens concession booth has been open only during borough events in the park, and managed by borough employees and volunteers. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-2130637A local ice cream business has won the right to run the rarely open concession stand in Red Bank’s Riverside Gardens Park.

Gracie and the Dudes Organic Ice Cream, which has a seasonal store in Sea Bright and one in Long Branch that’s open year-round, won council approval Wednesday night to lease the borough-owned facility for two years.

The council approved the contract just one month after officials unveiled a plan to put the space up for bid, hoping to spark more activity and generate revenue for the town coffers.

“It’s going to be nice to be able to get a scoop of ice cream” downtown, said Mayor Pasquale Menna, who had previously referred to the stand as “a waste of resources.”

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels said Gracie and the Dudes offered to pay $7,500 rent in the first year, $10,000 in the second, and to sink $35,000 worth of improvements into the West Front Street facility. Though there’s no interior seating, the booth will be air-conditioned at the vendor’s expense, and utilities will be billed to the vendor, he said.

After two years, the business has the option to extend the contract by three years, Sickels said.

Gracie and the Dudes was one of three bidders, one of which filed an incomplete bid, he said.

Sickels said the town originally limited the operation of the stand to times when concerts, film screenings and other public events were held in the park, so as not to create competition with privately owned businesses. Foodtown tried running the booth as a snack stand under those limitations, but found it wasn’t economically feasible, he said.

In recent years, the stand has been operated by the parks and rec department only in conjunction with summer film screenings and jazz shows in the park.

During their discussion of the proposal last month, elected officials said the successful bidder would be required to operate during such events. In its proposal, Gracie and the Dudes projected it would be open from April into October, operating from 11 a.m. to 10 or 11 p..m.

Michelle McMullin, who owns Gracie and the Dudes with her husband, Brian, tells redbankgreen she hopes to open the stand sometime in June.

“The building is basically a shell,” she said in an email. “We will need to bring it up to standards that will meet the health code. We need to do a fair amount of electrical work.”

The stand will carry to company’s full menu of homemade ice cream, sundaes, milkshake and its organic Italian ice, she said.

As a bonus to borough kids, the stand will give away a free cone or Italian ice to any Red Bank Rec sports player who arrives in uniform on a game day, McMullin said.

Under state Green Acres requirements, the borough’s income from the deal can only be used to maintain or enhance town parks that have received Green Acres funding, Sickels said. Menna said the borough would continue to be responsible for the maintenance of rest rooms attached to the facility.

Gracie and the Dudes owner Michelle McMullin could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.

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