By John Burton
RED BANK – A couple of days after leaving her job as executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, Nancy Adams looks back over a period of changing direction and a difficult economy and feels there is a lot that has marked her tenure in the job.
“It’s been a great ride, overall,” Adams said this week from her home in Maplewood, as she took stock in her time overseeing the marketing and advocacy organization for the borough’s commercial Special Improvement District. “It was a tough ride and it sure wasn’t an easy one,” she continued about her role with the organization, “not when you take a job and less than a year later the economy collapses.”
Adams, who was executive director since Oct. 2007, left the job abruptly last Friday. “Mostly, it was a mutual time to go sort of thing,” between herself and RiverCenter’s board of directors.
“It was time to move on,” she said.
Tom Fishkin, RiverCenter’s vice president, and owner of Broad Street’s Readie’s Market Cafe, said Adams had met with two board members (Fishkin was not one of them) when the decision was reached by the parties that “It’s time to look at somebody new.”
“It’s probably inherent in a job like this,” Fishkin said. “It’s going to run its course. You want to keep that fresh momentum moving.”
Adams, who had the job for about five and a half years, actually held the position longer than most of her predecessors. “And that speaks volumes for her,” Fishkin said.
Prior to Adams’ time with RiverCenter and going back to when it was initiated more than 20 years ago, the organization’s priorities were somewhat different. As Fishkin explained, the organization and its board was what he called more brick-and-mortar oriented, with the board concentrating on streetscape projects for Broad and Monmouth streets and some other visual beautification work – which was very expensive – along with its core mission of overseeing and advocating for the Special Improvement District, or SID.
Adams shifted the focus somewhat, stressing the importance of business recruitment and marketing and promoting the district through traditional and burgeoning means, such as using social media, he said.
“Trying to keep Red Bank’s name out in the public’s mind,” was what she deemed an important accomplishment during her time here, Adams said.
When she started in the job, the concern for many in the business community was the threat posed by other area towns that had begun their own commercial and mixed-use redevelopment projects, such as Pier Village in Long Branch and Asbury Park’s boardwalk area. And that prompted Adams to advocate for a larger marketing budget and push for more special events to attract people. As a result, the marketing budget went from $10,000 to $60,000 during her tenure, and a number of special events were added, such as last week’s Wedding Walk.
The Oct. 2008 economic meltdown had a dramatic impact on the local economy but Adams said the strategies put in place had a tempering effect and positioned the borough for a shorter recovery time than possibly other locations.
“I think that all helped a lot, helping rebound Red Bank,” she said. “And now I think it’s stronger than ever.”
“I think a lot of what she spearheaded and led us through, helped us move forward faster than some of our counterparts,” Fishkin added. “I think it was a great, great move for us.”
And given that the current vacancy rate for the downtown business district is about 4.5 percent – from a high of about 11 just a couple of years ago – including the opening of Char steakhouse on Broad Street, along with other planned business additions, are clear indicators that the SID is well positioned for advancement in the future, she said.
“I think we’ve been able to make Red Bank strong enough that people are noticing it,” Adams said.
But addressing the needs of a disparate group of business and property owners, which at times would conflict, was not an easy task, she acknowledged. Adams alluded to – but downplayed – what she said could be a “volatile” relationship with board members. And others have noted the schism that developed between Adams and traditional retail on one side and restaurants on the other, leading to the formation of Red Bank Flavour, a culinary alliance. “If I’m doing my job and doing it well, I’m going to ruffle some feathers,” she said.
“Every decision, small and large, is not going to make everyone happy” she said, explaining “You have to really rely on what you know is right and what you know is best for everybody.”
Adams has 20 years of downtown redevelopment experience, and has a consulting business and serves on the board of directors for Downtown New Jersey. But as to her future plans, “I’m not sure,” she said. “I just think it may be nice to not be in the spotlight or crosshairs, if you will,” in her future, she said.
Red Bank RiverCenter is a public/private partnership permitted under state statute. It was established in 1990 to help the borough address the economic torpor that had shrouded the district, like so many other urban downtowns, and bring about its revitalization. It has been largely successful, with many considering it a model for redevelopment.
RiverCenter’s annual budget is derived from a property assessment, separate from property taxes, levied on the property owners.