By John Burton |
RED BANK — Red Bank lost an original force in its efforts to revitalize the commercial downtown nearly 30 years ago, with the death of Larry Roberts on Sunday.
Lawrence W. Roberts, 78, who had been living in Little Silver, died on Sept. 24, at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune.
His obituary did not indicate the cause of death, but a longtime family friend said Roberts had been battling cancer.
Roberts, had served for many years as a chairman and board member for Red Bank RiverCenter, which manages and advocates for the borough’s commercial Special Improvement District. He founded the Red Bank Visitors Center and had been instrumental in founding and was board chairman of the Children’s Cultural Center, an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to establish a venue to provide arts and cultural educational opportunities for area youth.
“He had an integral role in the early days of the comeback of Red Bank,” said Jay Herman, who worked with Roberts on RiverCenter’s board of directors.
James Scavone, RiverCenter’s executive director said they were very sad to hear of Roberts’ passing. “We are certainly very appreciative of the work that he did for Red Bank,” Scavone said.
Roberts had been the branch manager for Merrill Lynch financial services in Red Bank when the national firm, then located on Harding Road, had planned to leave the borough around 1990.
It was when Red Bank had been in economic decline with a commercial district on life support, and many derisively referred to the community as “Dead Bank.” It was at that time that then just-elected Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. had begun working with stakeholders to create the Special Improvement District (SID) and RiverCenter to redevelop the commercial district, undertaking such steps as business recruitment, streetscape projects and marketing campaigns.
McKenna recalled this week that he reached out to Roberts about preserving the Merrill Lynch offices, relocating them to the heart of the downtown on Broad Street, where they’re still located today.
“He made a major commitment on behalf of Merrill Lynch,” McKenna said. “But it was his belief that we could turn Red Bank around that had him make that commitment,” paving the way for the revitalized district it has become.
“He was a visionary,” noted McKenna, who remained close friends with Roberts and Roberts’ family over the years. “He was an integral part of that.”
Roberts had worked with McKenna and Jay Herman, who heads up Downtown Investors, a real estate development firm on Broad Street. Merrill Lynch relocated to one of Herman’s properties at 77 Broad St.
“Had Merrill Lynch moved out at that point when it was ‘Dead Bank’ here, it would have been hard to recover,” said Herman, who still serves as a member of RiverCenter’s board of directors.
Margaret Mass, executive director of the Red Bank RiverCenter, said, “He was a great mentor to me.” He saw Red Bank as a place to be promoted for visitors and residents, she said.
“He was very positive about Red Bank and wanted us to succeed,” Mass remembered.
Mayor Pasquale Menna in a Facebook post on Wednesday said Roberts was, “…a happy man who always saw the sunshine and a man of deep faith in the service of others,” noting his philanthropic work as much as his business activities.
Roberts is survived by his wife, Paulette; his daughter, Julie Fleming, Rumson; his son, Dan Roberts, Denver, Colorado, and his family; and extended family members.
This article was first published in the Sept. 28 – Oct. 5, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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