Changes on the Horizon: LBI Region Awaits Transformation

Big Projects in Manahawkin, Ship Bottom, Beach Haven

Artist Rendering

The offseason around the Long Beach Island region is anything but. From road work on Route 72 to infrastructure projects in Ship Bottom and other Island communities, the work that can’t be done during the summer season due to the high volume of seasonal homeowners and summer tourists, now kicks into gear. Construction schedules and the permitting process play a large role, too, in when a project can begin.

That’s the case with the preliminary work along the northeast portion of the Holiday Inn on Route 72 East in Manahawkin. In April, 151 Route 72 LLC – Mainland Family Adventure Park – was before the Stafford Township Planning Board for a public hearing and approval. It was OK’d with the resolution of the approval memorialized in May.

Plans for the site include an electric go-cart track, a rope course including ziplining, and a tower for rock climbing and free falling, according to Megan Jacobs of Mercer Management. The area for development is between the east side of the hotel and the Route 9 south exit off Route 72, fronting the state highway, she said. The plan is to keep a significant tree buffer along the ziplining area, Jacobs said.

Just last spring, The Mainland, the Holiday Inn’s restaurant and bar, opened its Beer Garden, including a bocce ball court, corn-hole toss, a nine-hole putting green with a sand box, and a half basketball court with glow-in-the-dark balls.

The latest project, according to Jacobs, expands the family fun experience seen at the hotel and at The Mainland.

“We’re hoping to start construction soon and open in May 2019,” she said. The timeline is dependent on when the project receives its go-ahead from outside agencies.

While the project was given the greenlight locally, it still needs to receive Coastal Area Facility Review Act approval, Stafford Township Administrator James Moran said.

“Anything east of the Parkway is considered part of the coastal development zone,” he said, noting certain parts of the project can begin without CAFRA approval. “There are limits to what can be done.”

Mercer Management is also behind two projects on the Island. The construction of Hotel LBI, a 105-room hotel at the site of the former State Room, is on target for a spring 2019 completion, Jacobs said. Located between Eighth and Ninth streets in Ship Bottom, the hotel is slated to be the largest commercial structure on LBI. With a height of 45 feet, it will be the tallest building in Ship Bottom, the gateway community to the barrier island.

Earlier this month, developer Chris Vernon of Mercer Management attended a Beach Haven Borough Council meeting to introduce himself to the community where he is looking to build a restaurant and a 102-room hotel on the bayfront site of the former Morrison’s Restaurant. The longtime eatery was destroyed by a fire in 2005, and the site has been vacant ever since.

“We’re working with the borough and residents to see if it’s a good fit,” Jacobs said of the proposed plans, which included keeping the marina and perhaps enhancing its amenities. “We’re in the early planning for that.”

Putting to bed any rumors on the issue, Jacobs said what is not in the works for Mercer Management is the Drifting Sands Motel. Every so often, the scuttlebutt just about anywhere on the Island is that Chris Vernon has bought the Drifting Sands. He hasn’t, and there are currently no plans to snatch the motel away from Blue Water Development, an Ocean City, Md.-based firm, which purchased the oceanfront motel in June 2017 for $12.5 million.

“The people who own it are lovely,” Jacobs said. “We’ve met with them to see what their plans are (for the place).”

Earlier this year, Rafael Correa, chief financial officer for Blue Water, said before any exterior work is done, the company would look at the local architecture.

“Our goal is not to stand out,” Correa said. “We want to complement the local landscape. We feel a responsibility to Ship Bottom as the entrance to the Island. We need to do the right thing; we’ve got to do the right thing.”

Back on the mainland, Mercer Management is working with Barnegat Township officials to bring a senior living development to West Bay Avenue, Jacobs said. The proposed development is in the style of cluster cottage living, she said.

“We’re in mid-planning,” Jacobs said, noting final approval is needed from the Pinelands Commission.

Mercer Management is also the developer and owner of the Bonnet Island Estate and the Mallard Island Yacht Club in Stafford Township, along the north side of the Route 72 Causeway.

— Gina G. Scala

Reposted from The Sandpaper