RED BANK: DREAMING BIG ABOUT RIVERVIEW

A video created by a Philadelphia architectural firm shows a vastly expanded Riverview Medical Center campus. (Video by BKT Architects. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topic red bank njOver more than a dozen years of amassing Red Bank real estate, officials at Riverview Medical Center have been silent on an obvious question: what do they plan to do with their growing land bank?

They’re still not saying. But someone went to the expense of hiring an architecture and urban planning firm to come up with blue-sky concept plans for Riverview, redbankgreen has learned. And he just made a killing selling the hospital some real estate.

A concept for a conference center on the site of a recently demolished Victorian mansion on East Front Street. Below, a video for Excalibur Group featured a proposed building, in blue at left, on a site that Pierini sold to the hospital in December. (Images from Vimeo and BTK website. Click to enlarge.)

The concept images, created by the Philadelphia firm BKT Architects, depict the northern end of the borough redeveloped as a sprawling hospital campus, with at least six new large buildings.

Among them are:

• a multistory structure in what’s now the hospital’s front-yard parking lot on East Front Street

• a “medical services building” directly across East Front. Both this structure and the one cited above are shown linked to the hospital’s J. Marshall Booker Pavilion by a pedestrian tube that passes over East Front Street traffic and bears the motto, “Wellness District.”

• a new riverfront “conference center with public water access” on the site of a recently demolished Victorian mansion at 95 East Front and a still-standing office building at 91 East Front

• a new building at the corner of Mechanic Street and Globe Court, where there’s now a surface parking lot

• and a new parking garage on the site of the borough-owned parking lot between Wallace and Mechanic streets.

The still images and computer graphics appear on BKT’s website, in a YouTube video and in a promotional video for Excalibur Group, a Perth Amboy construction firm that specializes in medical facilities.

As reported by redbankgreen, Excalibur founder and CEO Geoff Pierini, of Rumson, sold vacant lots at the corner of East Front and Spring streets to Riverview parent Hackensack Meridian Health for $5.75 million in December, generating a 360-percent gain on a $1.25 million investment in less than four years.

Through RB Properties LLC, another company he controls, Pierini obtained planning board approval for in 2019 to erect a 27,000-square-foot medical office building on the site. The structure was never erected, but a rendering of it appears among the concept plans for Riverview in the Excalibur video.

BKT has also worked for Riverview: it designed the oncology center that Riverview opened in 2016 at 81 East Front Street.

BKT principal Brian Tracy, whose firm also designed Pierini’s building, told redbankgreen Tuesday that the concept images were the result of “some very preliminary planning for a developer called RB River properties, who wanted to see what might be possible.

“It was a speculative study on behalf of the developer who we had worked for on a small office building in the area,” Tracy said via email. “I haven’t worked on it for over a year I think and I’m not aware of any interest from anyone to go further.”

Pierini did not respond to redbankgreen requests for comment. A Riverview spokesman also did not address a series of questions about the concept plans.

The Excalibur video, about four minutes long, makes no mention of Red Bank or Riverview. But the images, which appear for only a few seconds near the end, follow a drone photo showing existing conditions at Riverview.

Pierini’s primary aim in commissioning the work appears to have been to bolster Excalibur’s standing with officials at Riverview, and perhaps other hospitals, for future contracts.

“Excalibur is the future of healthcare facility design and construction,” a narrator says in the video, which was posted on Vimeo in December, 2019. When talks about the sale of the lots to hospital began was not publicly available.

BKT’s web page, however, is explicitly about Red Bank.

On a web page titled “Red Bank Revitalization Master Planning,” BKT said it was “working with RB River Properties, the municipality of Red Bank and Riverview Medical Center to transform the entire neighborhood around the campus by converting several city blocks into a wellness district.”

“By classifying the area as a redevelopment zone, the building heights and area standards can be adjusted to allow for new buildings that fit into the context, establish an appropriate scale for the neighborhood and encourage design that will revitalize the streetscapes,” it says.

But Red Bank Business Administrator Ziad Shehady said the town is not “working with” BKT, and that he had not seen the video or the images it contains until alerted to them by redbankgreen Tuesday.

“If they’re working with the municipality, then it’s no more than the typical phone call or inquiry any developer or resident makes to the Borough,” Shehady said. RB Properties “may have engaged with BKT Architects, but the Borough has no agreements or arrangements in place with either. This sounds like exaggerated or hopeful marketing material to oversell their work.”

No request for redevelopment of the area has been received by the borough, Shehady said.

Riverview was founded in a renovated boarding house on Union Street in 1928. As its footprint grew in recent years, the institution absorbed two streets that were formerly public: a portion of Union Street, in 2006; and North Washington Street, in 2015.

Since 2008, the hospital has also acquired a handful of East Front Street properties without developing or signaling what it intends to do with them.

They include the longtime site of the Worden-Hoidal Funeral Home at 60 East Front Street, which is now a vacant lot; an office building at 91 East Front, now emptied of tenants; and the site of a Victorian mansion that Riverview demolished over the cries of historic preservationists in late December; and he Pierini properties. [Click the green circles on the map below for more detail.]

In January, Riverview also finalized a 20-year lease-purchase deal that allowed it to acquire the Globe Court parking garage from the borough for $1. The 519-space structure was built as a joint venture between the borough and the hospital in 1984.

While the hospital now owns most of the south side of East Front Street from Globe Court to Spring Street, it does not have a monopoly. Under non-hospital ownership are, moving east from the former funeral home site: a four-story medical office building; a restored Victorian mansion used as offices by plastic surgeon Dr. Negin Griffith; a vacant corner parcel owned also owned by Griffith; and on the northwest corner of Washington Street, a building that’s been in the family of Dr. Ronald Costa, who has an office there, for more than 70 years.

Map shows Hackensack Meridian’s Red Bank holdings; click on the green markers for details. (Google Map from Monmouth County property records.)

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