By John Burton
RED BANK — Expect discussions on the construction of a parking garage in downtown Red Bank to come up again at borough council meetings in the near future, says Mayor Pasquale Menna.
Business owners and developers are already expressing interest in a parking garage after a lull brought on by a series of economically difficult years.
Given that interest, Menna said, the time might be right to start talking about a public/private collaboration to fund the constsruction of a parking deck at the White Street municipal parking lot.
“I think in the next few months there will be some action by the [borough] council on a number of comprehensive garage, parking/public use initiatives,” he said.
Red Bank RiverCenter has been talking with “people who may be interested,” in pursuing this, the mayor said, but declined to name the interested parties.
Any such partnership would include some stipulations, Menna said, including that the garage would be a revenue generator for the municipality; that resident taxpayers wouldn’t pay for the facility’s construction; and that, in addition to containing parking stalls, the garage would have some additional public use.
“It’s got to be a creative use and we’re open to suggestions,” he said.
One other condition, Menna attached: “It can’t be a big box with a housing element on top.”
The shortfall in parking spaces has long been a problem for elected officials and local businesses and at times has become a heated political issue. More than a decade ago, then Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. and some of his Democratic borough council colleagues proposed bonding for $11 million dollars to construct a municipally owned and operated parking deck at the White Street lot. The downtown business alliance, Red Bank RiverCenter, strongly supported the project and McKenna argued that the garage would help not only the businesses, but the whole community.
Republican candidates for municipal office waged a successful campaign encouraging residents to voice objections to their tax dollars being used for the project.
Menna, a Democrat, at that time eventually said he would vote against it, and with the others opposed, the bond ordinance was withdrawn.
Since then RiverCenter and members of the downtown business community have continued to advocate for a parking garage as a way of keeping commercial activity alive in Red Bank.
New proposals have been discussed, including those that would contain retail or housing components; but none of them have moved beyond the discussion stage.
Now, Menna believes, business and constsruction projects are moving forward again and the time has come to revisit the idea of a parking garage.
“It’s very easy to put up a parking meter and collect a fee on the parking stall,” he said, explaining his reasoning. “But is that the most creative and the best use for the taxpayers who need relief?”
Menna declined to be nailed down as to when these proposals would become public. But he did hint that there would be other significant news about forthcoming businesses. “And they will be extraordinary for the municipality, in terms of people who are going to move in to work in town,” he said.