Bill Fontana speaking at the Two River Theater Monday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)


After four months of public meetings, Red Bank RiverCenter‘s effort to redefine its vision began coming into focus Monday night.

Topping a list of six priorities that the downtown promotion agency should focus on is a “reimagined, redeveloped and reinvigorated riverfront,” a consultant told several dozen business owners and borough residents at the Two River Theater.

A view of the Navesink River from Riverside Gardens Park. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

“It’s not a physical vision,” Bill Fontana, of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, told the audience. “It’s about the economic future of Red Bank.”

Leveraging the “gem” of a waterfront, which may include redevelopment, will fall on the shoulders of RiverCenter, the designated manager of the borough’s 27-year-old special improvement district, Fontana said.

“I will tell you unequivocally, the things that keep communities from attaining their vision always, always, always, always, always, always, always, organizational issues,” Fontana said.

Other elements of the vision plan call for highlighting the town’s “arts and creativity;” downtown dining and shopping; access to mass transit and a “complete streets” program; its position as a “center for health and wellness;” and its role as a provider of financial, legal and other professional services.

Here’s the draft document: rivercenter draft vision 091018

RiverCenter hired PDC, of Harrisburg, last spring to help it find its way to a new strategic plan after Cheese Cave owner Steve Catania became its chairman this year. In May, Catania said many downtown merchants were unable to articulate RiverCenter’s mission, which also needed updating in light of economic competition for businesses and shoppers from nearby towns.

While several attendees praised the plan, some raised doubts about RiverCenter’s ability to execute on it, citing downtown sidewalks they said are persistently littered with debris.

Fontana said that was largely a responsibility of property owners.

Former council member Cindy Burnham, who championed the preservation of Maple Cove as the town’s only publicly accessible point of contact with the river, was also skeptical.

The vision plan, she said, in many ways echoes the borough’s Master Plan in terms of emphasizing the waterfront and the town’s history, but “it doesn’t happen. We are killing our architectural history,” she said.

Still, when Fontana asked if anyone thought the draft did not reflect the discussions over the prior three meetings, no one spoke up.

The draft is expected to undergo further refining before it’s completed next month. The final meeting in the series is scheduled for October 15, at a location to be determined.