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Freehold Borough: Progress through settling?

Observations from Freehold

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?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike April 24, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Dan, My question to you is, is it better to keep a non existing eye sore, or let someone use and maintain a property which is the gateway into our town. I agree that in a perfect world a 7-11 or Exxon isn't the "ideal" but in our current economy, isn't something better then nothing? I for one, do not want to see a 7-11 there for safety purposes, yet its hard to complain about an eye sore if you want to hand pick what business goes there. Also, Freehold is a beautiful town and has its own charm, I don't believe its fair for us to use Red Bank or Princeton as a model, they are both larger towns then we are, with a much larger appeal for many types of businesses to be drawn to. We have had antique shops, music shops and dance studios come and go, it seems to be a tough market for new or different businesses.
Dan Xavier April 24, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Mike - I agree that a strong argument can be made for not waiting for the "perfect tenant". But in my opinion I think it's crucial we keep in mind that whatever proposed redevelopment happens at the property site now (i.e. building a new 7-11 or gas station), there's a very strong chance of it still being around once the economy has rebounded. So while it's certainly tempting to want to fill the location with whoever wants it today, doing it haphazardly can negatively effect the types of businesses & residents our town attracts tomorrow. (As far as a town-to-town comparison, I choose Princeton & Red Bank because I think those are perfect model towns. However you can just as easily swap in Lambertville, NJ and New Hope, PA. The point is that each of these towns think about their public image/brand when reviewing every new business application - regardless of the economic climate.) Again this is simply my opinion...
Bob April 24, 2012 at 04:19 PM
the bld. that stands on spring street next to the first aid bld. was once the Freehold Dairy and that bld. was sold to somebody with the intentions of putting a 7-11 ( or something like it) store there. That idea was shot down because the amount of parking spots needed for a store that size. Even though that idea was shot down, there still is a sign saying a convience store coming soon. I dont think a store should go in either place in my opinion and think it would be better off using that property for something else that would cause less traffic. ( paid parking lot, the way it was with the mural but put benches around for people to sit and relax for lunch or breaks, extra parking for Tony's Diner ect.ect)
Mike April 24, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Dan, I feel Keyport and Matawan are more realistic towns to compare the Boro too. All these towns have similar "main streets" and are close comparisons financially to us. As far as the economic "rebound", some experts from the financial industry feel this is 10 - 15 years away. Although I am a fan of vision, worrying about 10 to 15 yrs in advance is a little to far out(as far as controlling if a business is good or bad). I respect your thoughts and enjoy the open dialogue with you, I just am not sure discouraging a business is a smart move right now? I think if questionable business like a porn store or go go bar wanted in, then you stop it but other then that whats the limit on a good v. bad business? Is a vacant run down lot better then a convience store? I for one, lean towards something is better then nothing. Also, if would bring the property "up to date " as far as codes etc. Just a thought.
Lisa April 24, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Very well said, Mike! I totally agree with your comparisons to Keyport and Matawan -- there IS a similar "feeling," no better way to describe it. It's the reality of the "bones" of the downtown and surrounding borough. And yet I also see exactly what Dan is saying too. He is being aspirational -- why NOT aspire to emulate the more famous downtowns?
Mike April 24, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Lisa, I agree to see them as a inspiration, but to look at it more realistically, you have to think on the lines of Keyport/Matawan. Also, with the economy in its current state, having high aspirations is nice but is it realistic. Moral of the story is Dan has new ideas and vision which is always good, especially for the Boro.
Mike April 24, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I too agree with your thoughts on less traffic etc., I just feel sometimes something is better then nothing. We may bite our nose off it we chase away a business without having any other legit options.
Lisa Johnson April 25, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Bob I soo agree with you. I think the redevelopment plan in Freehold is Crucial to Freehold boro. And I do think Red Bank is a good comparison, bigger or not! The reason why they have been so successful. Is because I personally have had my own experience with how stringent their code requirements are, and they are definitely A LOT tougher then Freehold Boro. I just wish Freehold Boro would follow their lead with facade requirements. If they did I think it would make our town look so much more beautiful. Instead of the hap-hazard signage we now have. Which I feel makes this town look poor and almost slum-like
Michelle April 25, 2012 at 08:43 PM
I agree that waiting for a tennant that fits in with the vision of Downtown Freehold would be beneficial in the long run. No sense rushing into filling a space to find yourself having to refill it because it didn't fit the current development standards and attract those you're targeting. It's been vacant for this long, and while this isn't ideal, i think making a rash decision to occupy the space is less ideal.
Nathan April 28, 2012 at 03:35 AM
The whole point of having a Redevelopment Plan is to have a "plan" for situations like this. Here, the "plan" is to wait for appropriate development. Allowing a convenience store or gas station just makes Freehold more like Anytown USA, which is fine if that's what you want - but then why even bother to have a Redevelopment Plan at all when you aren't going to follow it? In the meantime I would suggest a landscaped parking lot for the diner or even a pocket park to compliment the park in the median triangle, with funds and services for such to be raised and/or donated by local businesses and unions.


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