In my travels around town this weekend I was asked my opinion about what should be done with the long-abandoned property at the 5-point intersection of Spring Street. As every resident of Freehold Borough is painfully aware, recently the site enjoyed an all-too-brief “renaissance” (courtesy of the Freehold Borough Arts Council and the desecrated town mural) and now the question of what to do with this run down property has slowly pushed its way back into the town’s collective social conscience.
With proposals of opening up a 7-11 or re-opening a new gas station on the grounds, some community leaders have argued that at this point the town should simply allow the site to be redeveloped in any capacity as opposed to waiting for the “right” tenant to develop the location as prescribed by the town’s Freehold Center Core Redevelopment Plan. And as is typically the case with most difficult decisions, an argument can be made in favor of both approaches.
- Is it better to settle for a chain discount retail store tenant today as opposed to working to recruit a fashionable clothing store tenant for that same space tomorrow?
- Is it better to settle for a convenience store tenant today as opposed to working to recruit a high-end jeweler tenant for that same space tomorrow?
- Is it better to settle for a gas station tenant today as opposed to working to recruit an artist’s gallery tenant for that same space tomorrow?
In my opinion the key difference in each of the above scenarios is that of vision – and the realization that the easiest solution is not always the best long-term solution. For example, it would’ve been far easier to build an Olive Garden at 18 East Main St. as opposed to repairing the severely damaged and long abandoned existing structure. But thanks to the vision of owner Steve Goldberg and guidance from members of the Freehold Borough Historic Committee, the American Hotel was fully rehabbed and has once become the crown jewel of downtown Freehold. The same holds true with the current renovation of the Richmond House office complex at 42 East Main St.
The truth of the matter is that all decisions – regardless of size or scope – have a tremendous impact on the perception of our town as a whole. It’s something that municipalities such as Red Bank and Princeton recognize as critically important and the reason they intentionally go out and recruit businesses aligning with their town’s strategic planning goals as opposed to letting redevelopment occur haphazardly.
I believe in quality vs. quantity and I appreciate that some things are simply worth the wait. After sitting dormant for the last 10 years, we all want to see the property at one of the town’s most visual locations redeveloped into something that every resident can be proud of. But should that source of pride really have a glowing 7-11 or Exxon sign above it?