Projects Restore and Revitalize Ship Bottom Business District

Arlington Beach Club, 24-condo units on an acre of land at what is known locally as the Causeway Circle. Photo by Ryan Morrill.

Change, revitalize, restore – any of these words can be used to describe Ship Bottom’s current commercial building resurgence, and depending on the perspective, all of them are at least somewhat accurate. The common thread, no matter what the point of view: The construction projects are hard to miss.

Just travel on Route 72 East and the rising Phoenix, what will become Hotel LBI, comes into sight. Not far from there, across Barnegat and Central avenues, is the Arlington Beach Club, 24 condo units on an acre of land at what is known locally as the Causeway Circle. Cross Long Beach Boulevard, and there are changes being made at Drifting Sands Motel, a 100-room motel on the oceanfront block of Eighth Street. Rounding out the commercial boon, for now, is the April approval of an office and retail development next to The Gateway.

“In some ways, it is changing,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck said recently. “In other ways, we are renewing the old, restoring what we once had.”

What the borough, just seven-tenths of a square mile, had in spades was hotel and motel rooms to accommodate weekenders and other short-term visitors. Little by little, though, those rooms went away to make way for single-family homes, Huelsenbeck said.

“We had a tremendous amount of rooms,” the mayor said, noting borough restaurant owners over the years have confided their clientele have changed from visitors to locals or seasonal homeowners who didn’t dine out as often. “People would come down for the day and get a hotel room. They were here before.”

Now, some of those rooms are coming back as the gateway community’s building boom begins to take shape.

Hotel LBI: The site of the former State Room, located between Eighth and Ninth streets, is slated to become the largest commercial structure on Long Beach Island. The future 105-room hotel, with a height of 45 feet, will be the tallest building in Ship Bottom. Construction on the project began earlier this year and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.

Arlington Beach Club: Like Hotel LBI, the Arlington Beach Club is located between Eighth and Ninth streets in Ship Bottom. The project consists of two three-story buildings with 12 condo units each joined by a courtyard and a pool area. It will be bordered by Long Beach Boulevard to the east and Central Avenue to the west. Construction at the former Exxon gas station site began earlier this year. Approval for the project was received in 2016.

“We put some thought into the property,” Huelsenbeck said of the 1-acre lot located between Wawa and Oskar Huber Furniture and Design. “No one wanted it. The area was polluted. We had to sue Exxon to fix the property.”

In considering the condominium project, which was nearly universally panned on social media, the mayor said, a key factor was in being able to provide homes for individuals who want to remain living on the Island without breaking the bank.

“There are people sitting here with very expensive homes who can’t afford to eat,” Huelsenbeck said.

Drifting Sands: Most of the work being done at the oceanfront motel is to the interior and guest suites. Blue Water Development, an Ocean-City, Md.-based firm, purchased the hotel last summer for $12.5 million.

“One of the things we do is look at local architecture. Our goal is not to stand out,” Rafael Correa, chief financial officer for the company, said earlier this year. “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.”

The Walters Group: Remediation of the former gas station at Eighth Street and Central Avenue is expected to be completed by the end of the year. In anticipation of that, the Land Use Board approved an application for the 20,000-square-foot site, located next to the Gateway. Plans include two structures connected by a covered deck at the second level to house a small restaurant, a real estate leg of the Walters Group and its architectural design firm.

Traffic Changes: Huelsenbeck doesn’t believe any of the projects are going to negatively impact the traffic in the community, which can reach epic proportions during the summer. Still, he said parking for Hotel LBI will be underneath the structure, and the land use board limited the number of access points at the Arlington Beach Club. When it was the Exxon gas station, there were too many access points.

Perhaps the biggest thing to help ease traffic congestion, though, is the state Department of Transportation’s plans to eliminate the so-called Causeway Circle, reconfiguring it as a square once the DOT completes its $350 million bridge project, slated tentatively for the summer of 2020, though the end date is predicated on weather and other outside factors.

The site of the beach club is to be squared off to make room for the traffic flow changes on Eighth and Ninth streets as well as Central Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard, according to Dan Triana, DOT public information officer. The DOT’s proposed improvements in Ship Bottom include converting a section of Long Beach Boulevard, the main thoroughfare on the 18-mile Island, into a two-way road at the site of the club, he said.

Central Avenue, the one-way road southbound between Third and 11th streets in Ship Bottom before motorists come to the traffic circle, is also expected to be reconfigured, Triana said. This section of the road would be converted to allow for two-way traffic, he said. Left turns at Central Avenue will be prohibited at the intersection with Eighth and Ninth streets, he said. Other roadway improvements include widening the road along Eighth and Ninth streets by 13 feet to accommodate an additional lane of traffic, a 3-feet-wider inside shoulder and a new 8-feet-wider shoulder, according to Triana.

The Effect of Superstorm Sandy: “(Superstorm) Sandy put the jump on everything,” Huelsenbeck said, noting the borough’s infrastructure was prepared for some of the large, planned projects but not for the uptick in single-family home upgrades that resulted after the epic storm.

Until Sandy, Ship Bottom, one of the oldest communities on the 18-mile barrier island, still had homes with outdoor showers but no indoor showers. The summer cottages, many of which continue to pass from one familial generation to the next, were small homes easily converted to year-round living. In the five years since Sandy, however, some of those homes are being replaced by larger homes with more bathrooms.

“There has been a dramatic change in the dwellings,” he said.

These post-Sandy changes present challenges not fully seen before on Long Beach Island, and no one knows this more than the volunteer firefighters charged with protecting life and property.

“After Sandy, new construction maxes out lot coverage,” Rick McDonough, Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. president, has said. “They’re not just bigger, but taller and wider. Go big or go home, and that’s just residential.”

Two decades ago, the largest buildings on the Island were Morrison’s Seafood Restaurant in Beach Haven, Wida’s Brant Beach Hotel and Restaurant, now daddy-O Hotel and Restaurant, in Long Beach Township, and the Quarter Deck, on the current site of Hotel LBI.

One thing hasn’t changed, the mayor said, and that’s the close-knit community that’s always been Ship Bottom.

“Ship Bottom is on the smaller side,” he said. “People on Fifth Street know people on 28th Street.”

— Gina G. Scala

Reposted from The Sandpaper