Swimming River Park Takes Shape With Purchase Of Chris’ Deli

March 8, 2018
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Park Rehab To Start Later This Year

Long-standing Chris’ Deli on West Front Street was sold to the Monmouth County Park System earlier this month for $1.1 million and will become a part of Swimming River Park. Photo by Jay Cook

By Jay Cook |

MIDDLETOWN – A shuttered deli, once a popular lunch stop for boaters and locals in River Plaza for decades, is set to be demolished and become part of the Monmouth County Park System after it was purchased for $1.1 million earlier this month.

Monmouth Conservation Foundation (MCF) executive director Bill Kastning told The Two River Times that on Feb. 15 MCF and Monmouth County officials closed on the parcel known as the former Chris’ Deli property, located at 483 West Front St. MCF paid $25,000 cash and the county covered the remaining costs through the Open Space Trust Fund.

The approximately 1.5-acre deli property will become part of the Swimming River Park, about 11 acres of waterfront open space at the confluence of the Swimming and Navesink rivers in Middletown, at the Red Bank border. The park system purchased that land for $3.8 million in 2015.

“It is coming,” assured Andy North, a chief landscape architect with the Monmouth County Park System. “Now with the closing of that piece of property it gives us the ability to really wrap things up and move forward.”

Monmouth County Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian G. Burry said the “extremely important” acquisition is “a wonderful natural resource that is available to Monmouth County residents.”

The deli property was integral to the construction of Swimming River Park, officials said. After it is demolished later this year, the former deli site will serve as the main entrance to Swimming River Park once complete. Current site plans show that entrance lining up with Applegate Street across West Front Street, connecting the park to many neighborhoods in the residential neighborhood of the River Plaza section of Middletown.

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Now that the purchase is complete, a site remediation process begins, said Kastning. It is subject to review and approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

For years, asphalt road millings were discarded at sections of both the Chris’ Deli property and Chris’ River Plaza Marina, which is now Swimming River Park, creating hotspots of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls at the site, both environmental contaminants.

Kastning said the plan is to cap about eight to nine acres of the hilly property, which slopes down to the water front. The cost to create a cap is about $800,000, Kastning said. In comparison, soil removals could have cost up to $10 million and would have decreased the park size.

MCF is overseeing the park remediation on behalf of the county, said Jena Cosimo, MCF’s director of acquisitions. They have retained Brinkerhoff Environmental Services, Manasquan, to clean up the property.

In October the Freeholders authorized $100,000 for Brinkerhoff to break ground on West Front Street and investigate whether or not two gas tanks under the roadway were still there and filled with material. Burry said the tanks had been removed years ago, yet that notice was lost because the property owners were “lacking the proper paper work.”

She added the county now has “a clean bill of health there.” Kastning, MCF’s executive director, said there is no time frame on when the remediation process would be completed, though he did say the former deli would be demolished by the county sometime later this year.

There are no environmental concerns connected to the deli building, which was built in 1930, per county tax records.

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Swimming River Park is one of two county-owned public access points to the Navesink River – the other is found at the Claypit Creek section of Hartshorne Woods, in the Locust section of Middletown. Being able to preserve and develop the open space properly is important, Cosimo said.

“Up here there’s really no access, so it’ll really allow residents to drop a kayak or a canoe in and go up the Swimming River, drop a smaller motorized boat and go in towards the Navesink,” she said. “The ramp has been there forever for the residents to use and now it’ll continue to be there for them to use.”

Other amenities planned for Swimming River Park are two separate fishing and crabbing docks; a riverine boardwalk with seating; a two-lane boat ramp with service docks; a boathouse with restrooms and patio seating; a quarter-mile-long paved multiuse walking loop, planned closer to West Front Street; another landscaped viewing area closer to the West Front Street Bridge; and the continuation of a longtime sledding hill used by locals.

“There’s a lot of young kids in that area so it’ll be great to have this as a park for them,” Cosimo said.

Cosimo said there are also plans to link Swimming River Park, via kayak or canoe traffic, with Sunset Park in Red Bank, where the borough is looking to rehabilitate the site of a former incinerator into a multipurpose park for West Side residents.

Both Chris’ River Plaza Marina and Chris’ Deli were owned by Christopher DeFillippo, who passed away in 2014 at 92. DeFillippo opened Chris’ Deli in 1949, and the marina soon followed. After his passing, the deli site had been owned by his wife, Anne DeFillippo, according to tax records.

For more information about Swimming River Park and other county parks, visit MonmouthCountyParks.com.

This article first appeared in the Mar. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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