Options for Waterfront Marine Park Explored |
By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – What are some ways to spruce up Marine Park and bring more bodies into Red Bank?
Enhanced options for transient docking and dining, a balance between passive and active recreation space and maybe, just maybe, a reintroduction of clay tennis courts to the park.
Those ideas, along with a few dozen more, were tossed around by about 40 residents at the inaugural open house session dedicated to the Marine Park Improvement Project. It’s a borough-led effort to reconfigure and reprioritize what Red Bank residents want to have available at their flagship park.
“I think a lot of us agree that Marine Park is the gem of Red Bank,” said Charlie Hoffmann, Red Bank’s director of recreation. “It’s a beautiful facility.”
Hoffmann told a crowd gathered inside borough hall on Monday afternoon that Red Bank will be following similar steps it took in the mid-1990s when it designed Riverside Gardens Park. That space is only a short stroll away along West Front Street.
The 2.2-acre Marine Park borders the Navesink River and is sandwiched between two private maritime institutions of Red Bank – Irwin Marine and Monmouth Boat Club. Along with much of the Jersey Shore, Marine Park was clobbered during Super Storm Sandy in 2012. The storm subsequently washed away its famed clay tennis courts and the space has been vacant ever since.
The borough hired Kimley-Horn, a planning and design engineering firm brought on in February 2016 for just over $40,000, to create a new master plan for Marine Park. Scott Scarfone, the landscape architect in charge, said he hopes to have that master plan in place by the end of the summer.
With that clean slate, here are some of the topics expressed by Red Bank residents as to how Marine Park can be better utilized by both its own residents and out-of-towners.
Docking and Dining
While many residents believe Red Bank doesn’t have enough parking, those present on Monday afternoon also believe the borough isn’t tapping into a market of transient boaters looking for a different way to access its downtown area.
Dan Murphy, owner of Danny’s Steakhouse on Bridge Avenue, said its time for the town to explore creating a landing and some type of service accessible along the Navesink River.
“Red Bank has sort of lost its destination as a place to go to, for other reasons,” Murphy said. “But I would like to see some kind of boat landing facility where we perhaps could start a taxi service.”
Cory Wingerter said he believes Red Bank is missing out on the opportunities afforded in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands. Docking and dining options are bountiful up and down the water in those towns.
“That might be something that Red Bank’s really missing out on,” he said.
Channing Irwin, owner of the neighboring Irwin Marine, said the borough had opportunities in the past to install a transient boater dock extending out from the borough marina at Marine Park. It would have extended about 100 feet and could have provided enough space for six to seven boats, he said.
He said it’s exactly what Red Bank should be looking for.
“If you go to any waterfront property on the East Coast, there’s a facility where you can dock and dine, dock and shop,” Irwin said.
“The idea is to bring people in and shop in town, keep them in town,” he added.
Different Days, Different Uses
Marine Park has a history of being multifaceted and having the space to accommodate different user groups. For years, it was home to RiverFest before a cancellation last year. It also has the space for a relaxing bask in the sun.
But residents say the park has so much more potential.
Red Bank Visitors Center executive director Margaret Mass said she envisions Marine Park as an offshoot of a popular New York City destination.
“Me personally, what I’d like to see is attractions that can be brought in, much like a Bryant Park, on a much smaller scale,” she said. “It can be active when it needs to be active, passive when it needs to be passive.”
Michael Raspanti suggested the borough lose all the unnecessary grass and dirt and introduce sustainable plants along the waterfront. It could save Red Bank money on mowing costs while also providing an additional unique feature.
“You can have a nice balance where people can lay and have a picnic and some really nice space where there’s some beautiful plants to bring in birds along the river,” he said.
The park should also have a “kick-butt” playground, said Ben Forest. He believes Red Bank residents shouldn’t have to travel around the county to enjoy a fun jungle gym.
Fred Stone, who is the Red Bank Public Schools board of education president, said the borough should be careful, though, of commercializing Marine Park.
“There’s a question in a town like this, which has a large impoverished population, that the access of the park should be equitable for everybody, not just us sea-siders only, but also to the West-Siders,” he said.
What About Tennis?
Maybe the most contentious issue surrounding Marine Park is what Red Bank should do with the former clay tennis courts which sit on the far end of the park.
If it were up to Ira Friedman, the courts would be opened sooner than later.
Friedman said the borough was given over 1,000 signatures to reinstate the clay tennis courts, built back in 1930, which offered a unique tennis experience.
“This country and this area has obesity and diabetic issues,” said Friedman. “You get kids out there and play, that certainly is a plus to address that issue.”
Chuck Hunnewell said since Marine Park was acquired and developed through state Green Acres funding, its uses should be consistent with the existing types of recreation. Tennis falls into that category, he said.
“It certainly might be nice to see those reconditioned and put back into use,” he added.
Jennifer Garcia, a self-described tennis aficionado, said with new courts the borough could seek grant funding to teach tennis to local schools from that site.
Multiple residents also brought up the $500,000 donation Rumson native James P. Cullen served up in 2015 to pay for court repairs and maintenance and how the borough made a mistake by not taking the offer.
Not all were convinced about reintroducing the courts, though. Forest suggested Red Bank gather hard numbers about how much the courts were actually used.
“I’d love to see some real data because I do hear ‘once upon a time’ a lot,” said Forest. “I was there on weekends and Sundays and sometimes you’d see somebody playing tennis there, but these descriptions of lines of people, I never, ever saw a line of people playing there.”
The next public input meeting on the Marine Park Improvement Project is scheduled for May 2. Comments from the April meetings will be used to construct a survey, which will be available for borough residents to complete soon. For more information about the project, visit redbanknj.org and search “Marine Park Improvement Project.”
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