Ship Bottom — For nearly five years the site of a former CVS at the Causeway Circle in Ship Bottom has sat empty, the marquee advertising it’s for lease or sale the only sign it was once a thriving retail business. Now change is coming to the site, located at Seventh Street and Long Beach Boulevard, but it won’t be arriving this summer.
“We’re not opening this summer,” Brian Wainwright, the manager of Wainwright Amusement, which purchased the property earlier this year and secured a use variance to bring a family entertainment center to the site, said earlier this week.
A use variance was required because entertainment was not a permitted use in the borough’s general commercial district where the property is located. The land use board, in a 5-2 vote on April 17, agreed Wainwright Amusement met the criteria for a use variance at the site.
The board’s approval was the first step Wainwright Amusement, which owns and operates Fantasy Island, Long Beach Island’s only amusement park, met on its journey to bring additional family entertainment to Ship Bottom. The next step involves a somewhat complex state gaming license process. In the early 2000s, municipal officials limited the number of amusement licenses to two in the borough. Hartland Golf and Arcade and Our Endless Summer, located at opposite ends of the borough’s roughly 1-mile strip of the Boulevard, each own one of those licenses.
The ordinance governing amusement licenses is separate from what the land use board could consider when it debated the use variance application. Only the borough council can make changes to the amusement license ordinance.
Plans for the vacant site include renovating the existing commercial structure to house a game zone, an escape room, chaos room, café and XD theater. Wainwright agreed to reduce the hours of operation at the family entertainment center from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., instead of the proposed midnight closing time; agreed to make no major or minor renovations to the site; and reiterated his commitment to safety by having security guards on the premises.
It was safety that many residents living in close proximity to the former pharmacy discussed March 20, when the applicant first appeared before the board, and again April 17 when the final decision on the application was rendered.
Wainwright said he was deeply concerned with what the neighborhood reaction to the proposed plans would be and was pleasantly surprised by their support for it, adding a lot of the feedback was from families that have children or grandchildren looking for somewhere to go and something to do.
Other issues of concern for some was traffic, but Scott Kennel, a traffic expert with McDonough-Rea Associates, the Manasquan-based transportation consulting firm retained by the applicant for a traffic study of the area, said he believed a family entertainment center would generate less traffic than a pharmacy “because of the stay time.”
Kennel said the area is prime for pedestrians and bicyclists, and for parents to drop off their children. “If there are 60 patrons (inside) and there’s two in a vehicle – that’s if everyone drove – it’s 30 vehicles.”
Thirty-nine parking spaces are required and 42 are provided for, Kennel said. When he looked at the existing arcades, the parking is more than double at the old CVS building, he said.
Additionally, the final phase of the $312 million federally funded expansion and rehabilitation of the Causeway should ease some of the traffic congestion in the area. It is centered on reconfiguring the Causeway Circle into a square. The Arlington Beach Club, which is located just west of the former CVS site, marks the area in question.
Squaring off the beach club property makes room for the traffic pattern changes on Eighth and Ninth streets, the entrance and exit roadways for LBI from Route 72. It also changes the traffic flow on Central Avenue and on Long Beach Boulevard, which will be converted into a two-way road in front of the former CVS.
Central Avenue is currently a one-way road southbound between Third and 11th streets in Ship Bottom before motorists come to the traffic circle. It’s this area that would be turned into a two-way street. Left traffic turns at Central Avenue will be prohibited at the intersection with Eighth and Ninth streets. Other improvements to the roadways include widening the streets by 13 feet to provide for an additional lane of traffic, an additional 3 feet for the inside shoulder and a new 8-foot-wider shoulder, according to DOT officials.
In the meantime, there are changes coming this summer to Fantasy Island in Beach Haven, including a redo of the ice cream parlor and the restrooms and replacing the temporary structures that housed outside games with permanent structures, according to Wainwright.
— Gina G. Scala