By MAUREEN L. CAWLEY
NORTH WILDWOOD – City Council members believe that if they build something at Seaport Village Pier, tourists will come. They just aren’t sure yet what they want to build or who they want to build it.
Council members do know, however, that they want some control over the process. So at a June 8 meeting, they unanimously passed a resolution to hire the Remington and Vernick engineering firm to come up with a redevelopment plan for the property.
For the past two decades, the city–owned pier at 22nd Avenue and the Boardwalk was leased as an open-air mall that housed a hodgepodge of gift shops and souvenir stores. Council President Patrick Rosenello told The Wildwood Leader last week, that the city had become “very unhappy with the physical condition of the pier and the timeliness of the rent payments and the proof of insurance.”
The city began an eviction proceeding about a year ago, Rosenello said, and it eventually regained possession of the property. He explained that the city had three options for developing the reclaimed pier.
“We could sell it or lease it and have no say in what’s going to go in there, or we can create a redevelopment plan,” he said.
Without a redevelopment plan, a municipality is forced to accept the highest bid on property it puts up for sale or lease.
“With a state-approved redevelopment plan,” Rosenello explained, “we gain the ability to negotiate with the best possible developer for the property,”
The city does not want amusement rides on the pier, Rosenello said, but is instead looking for something “new, unique and different” for the north end of the Boardwalk.
“We’ve already had close to six major reputable developers – some local, some from Philadelphia and Atlantic City – who are interested in the property. It’s already attracted a lot of attention,” he said.
The $45,000 redevelopment plan will be developed by planner Stuart Wiser, of Remington and Vernick.
At the meeting last week, Councilman Bill Henfey said that he hoped the engineering costs could be recovered through licensing fees on the property when it is developed. He thought the plan was a good idea.
“The city will really have control over what goes in there,” he said.
Councilman Hank Rice was not sure.
“It has always been kind of a white elephant,” he said. “I think we should sell the property and use it for our taxpayers.”
“If we keep it, it could be income for years,” Henfey said. “We could set it up to collect real estate taxes, as well as rent. It’s not just the money, though. We want to dress up that end of the Boardwalk.”
He indicated the plan would allow the city to choose a developer whose idea is most in line with what the city wants.
“We might eventually sign a lease purchase,” he told Rice.
Mayor Aldo Palombo expressed support for the plan also.
“I think this is an excellent way of going about it,” he said.
“We don’t necessarily want the highest bidder taking such a big piece of the Boardwalk. It’s important we are able to guide and direct what is going to go there,” Rosenello added.
“I’ll see what Remington comes up with,” Rice said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, local Realtor Brian McDowell, who recently gained celebrity as a contestant on “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump, made it clear he disagreed with council’s decision.
“Unfortunately, I think that is taking the capitalism out of America,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this pier to go up for bid for seven years.”
In an interview with this paper on Friday, McDowell indicated that he understood the city’s desire to have a say in the development of the pier.
“The last thing you need there are iron rides or an adult book store,” he said, but he believes the property should be put up for public bid in a process, which sets specific criteria for the development of the property.
He said the redevelopment plan was “taking the ‘entrepreneurism’ out of (the process).”
McDowell also said that the city recently decided not to renew his lease on an amusement platform at 25th and the Boardwalk, stating they “didn’t want to get involved in a landlord-tenant situation.”
He wondered why they were willing to do it at the 22nd Avenue pier.
“In a situation like this I don’t know if it makes sense to spend $45,000 on a study. If the pier sold for $5 million and the city banked that, they would make $250,000 a year in interest. I say put it in the bank and collect the interest,” he said.
McDowell wondered how a situation would be resolved if two companies pitched the same basic idea for the developing the property.
“What’s going to determine who gets it?” he said.
He indicated he spoke up at the council meeting partially because he wanted to “go on the record” that he looking at Seaport Village Pier as an investment opportunity. He is running for a council seat on the Democratic ticket in November, and if he wins the seat he doesn’t want there to be any misunderstanding about his intentions.
“I am running for City Council,” he said, “but I am also a business owner and an entrepreneur.
McDowell said he believes that the bidding process will be resolved.
“There will be a lot of public comment,” he said.
Several local businessman and members of the public spoke in support of creating an “anchor” attraction at the pier. Ideas suggested included: an aquarium, a Dave and Buster’s-style restaurant, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum and an outlet mall with a restaurant.
Rosenello indicated the city expects the planner to have the redevelopment plan ready in five months.
“It’s important this goes through proper procedures,” Palombo said on Wednesday. “The north end needs help.”
Maureen L. Cawley can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.