Attendees filling out questionnaires at the RiverCenter strategy session at the Oyster Point Hotel Monday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)


Amid intensifying competition regionally for business investment and shoppers, Red Bank RiverCenter kicked off a four-month effort to redefine its vision for the downtown Monday night.

About 70 people, most of them merchants, gathered in a ballroom at the Oyster Point Hotel to hear from a consultant on how to determine “what you want this place to look like in 10 years,” as he put it.

Bill Fontana, above, and participant Anthony Setaro, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Bill Fontana, executive director of Pennsylvania Downtown Center, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization that advises downtown promotion agencies, outlined a path to that goal.

“The need for a community vision is critical,” Fontana told the audience. Among other factors, it needs to take into account Red Bank’s place in a broader market, the area’s assets, and “reality,” he said.

“Dream big, but there are really only a limited number of options you can effectuate,” he said.

The meeting was the first in a series to which borough merchants and residents are invited, said RiverCenter executive director Jim Scavone. The 27-year-old organization has hired PDC to help it find its way to a new strategic plan, a process that Scavone said he expects to wrap up by late October.

The strategic review has been pushed by Cheese Cave owner Steve Catania, who joined RiverCenter’s 30-member board of directors last year and became its chairman this year. He was the founding president of the Red Bank Business Alliance, an alternative organization created two years ago, largely out of merchants’ “frustration over not being heard, frustration over not being utilized in the way they could contribute to the success of Red Bank,” he said in opening remarks Monday night.

“We’ve begun to see that change,” he said. “We’re seeing businesspeople become more active, more involved, RiverCenter engaging with a wider group of people.”

He cited as an example of collaboration Saturday’s Red Bank Classic 5k debut, organized by RBBA. The event, which drew more than 1,000 runners, including Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy, began as an idea from Sweetest Sin owner Angie Courtney, who garnered support from borough hall and other merchants to make it happen, Catania said.

In attendance Monday night were four of the five candidates for borough council: Independent Sue Viscomi, Republican Allison Gregory, and Democrats Kate Triggiano and Hazim Yassin. No elected officials attended.

Here’s the schedule of future meetings in the series, with locations to be announced:

Monday, July 16
Monday, August 13
Monday, September 10
Monday, October 15