Businesses readied for the second year of Broadwalk in May, 2021. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Delayed by months, the third season of Red Bank’s Broadwalk shopping-and-dining plaza may finally get going July 22.
This year’s edition, however, is slated to run only through Labor Day. And new fees for in-street dining will cost restaurateurs twice what they paid over the past two summers, said Bob Zuckerman, executive director of the downtown promotion agency Red Bank RiverCenter.
Retractable steel bollards have been installed at three intersections, including Broad and Front streets above, to enable quick street closings for Broadwalk and other programs. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
At its regular meeting Wednesday night, the borough council authorized the 24/7 closure of upper Broad Street to vehicular traffic upon the completion of a streetscape project. The closure would end September 6.
Organized in 2020 in reaction to COVID-19 pandemic limits on indoor dining, the first edition of Broadwalk ran from June through November. Broadwalk returned for a second year in May, 2021, and was originally slated to end October 1, but was granted a one-month extension.
Wednesday’s actions answered some of the key questions looming over the downtown business district as it enters the second half of summer: how much time restaurants would have to capitalize on the outdoor dining season; whether they’d be required to move off the street for days at a time for the resumption of traffic flows; and what it would cost in fees.
The debate leading up to the decisions included misgivings about closing down a main drag now that the pandemic emergency has ended.
Councilwoman Angela Mirandi said she’s still not clear on “what Broadwalk really is,” and whether it’s meant to be an annually recurring feature. Other towns are no longer closing main streets unless they’re doing it permanently, she said.
“We need to understand if this is really what we want and what makes sense,” she said.
Moreover, she said it was “disheartening” that the council has not addressed impacts of Broadwalk on traffic in residential areas, access to Riverview Medical Center, “the noise, trash, the vandalism. I heard we couldn’t change or do anything better, that’s very sad.”
Regarding the Labor Day cutoff, Councilman Michael Ballard, one of three members of the council’s Broadwalk committee, called the early stop a “compromise” with RiverCenter.
Zuckerman said he had met with Ballard and Mirandi last Friday, and “it was evident to me that there was not support for seven-day- a week through October.”
At issue, he said, were lost parking revenue and traffic congestion resulting from the Broad Street closure. In response, Zuckerman said he suggested “seven-days-a-week just through at least through Labor Day.”
“From my perspective, six weeks of Broadwalk is certainly preferable to no Broadwalk at all,” he told redbankgreen prior to the meeting.
Billy Portman, a Democrat running to succeed Pasquale Menna as mayor in the November election, urged the council to allow Broadwalk to continue through September, in light of the business lost because of streetscape road construction.
The extra weeks would be “an incredible boost” to downtown economy, he said.
Under the fee scheduled adopted in June, streateries outside the Broadwalk zone would cost restaurants $20 per day, per parking space utilized. As amended Wednesday, the fee structure now calls for all streateries to pay a flat $2.25 per square foot per month, regardless of location or license-holding, proponents said.
(The resolution actually omits the phrase “per month,” and instead says the $2.25 fee is “for the duration of said Applicant’s use of said space(s).” Here’s the document, which was not available to the public before late Thursday morning: Streatery fees 071322. An email to officials and others seeking comment on the enforceability of the fee was not immediately answered. Greg Cannon, who the council fired as borough attorney at Zipprich’s behest Wednesday, told redbankgreen no one from his firm wrote or reviewed the resolution.)
Though they had previously complained about a fee increase, no restaurant owners or retailers spoke during the council’s back-to-back workshop and regular meetings Wednesday.
Zuckerman, though, said the change, which he learned of earlier in the day, would double the streatery rate per month. He urged the council to maintain fees at 2021 “reasonable rates.”
Portman said the change would boost fees sixfold for streateries.
“I just don’t see how you can say you’re supporting business in Red Bank when you’re doing all you can to decimate it,” he said.
Mirandi, who chairs the finance and parking committees, said the fee is the same charged for streateries in Hoboken.
“This isn’t Hoboken,” said Councilwoman Kathy Horgan.
The new fee, Mirandi said, “will barely cover the cost” of having part-time police, known as “specials,” assigned to Broadwalk.
Noting the date, Menna said urgent action was needed.
“We have two resolutions,” said Menna. “They may not be perfect, but we have to take action. We can’t put it off any more.”
Interim Business Administrator Darren McConnell told redbankgreen Thursday that, weather permitting, final paving of Broad Street from Front Street to Harding Road will begin Monday and take three or four days, followed by one day or night of striping. Here’s the road-closure schedule.
Under the “best-case scenario,” Broadwalk would return Friday, July 22, McConnell said.
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