Ship Bottom — The road to a new family entertainment center in the old CVS building at the Ship Bottom circle just got a little harder.
The Ship Bottom Borough Council June 25 approved a motion authorizing its attorney to file an appeal of the land use board’s decision granting a use variance to Wainwright Amusement for an arcade-style family fun center at the site of the vacant CVS near the Causeway Circle. Wainwright Amusement owns Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven.
Councilman David Hartmann, whose family owns and operates Hartland Golf and Arcade, recused himself from the vote. Council President Edward English and Councilman Robert Butkus abstained, while council members Peter Rossi, Tom Tallon and Joe Valyo voted yes on the motion.
The motion was a last-minute addition to the council’s agenda, which surprised many in the audience, including James Raban, attorney for Wainwright Amusement, and Brian Wainwright, manager of Wainwright Amusement.
Raban was in attendance to formally request the council amend its entertainment license ordinance so his client could begin the next step in bringing an updated, technological-savvy arcade concept to the former CVS building, located at Seventh Street and the Boulevard. The lot’s dimensions include a 200-foot frontage on Long Beach Boulevard with a 160-foot depth and a total lot area of 32,000 square feet.
In April, a majority of the borough’s land use board agreed Wainwright Amusement met the criteria for a use variance at the site. A use variance was required because entertainment is not a permitted use in the borough’s general commercial district. That was the first step met 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. For Wainwright Amusement’s plans, which include renovating the existing commercial structure to house a game zone, an escape room, chaos room, café and XD theater, the company must first receive approval from the borough council. The ordinance governing licensing is separate from what the land use board could consider when it debated the merits of the use variance application.
“We’ll await receipt of the appeal and evaluate our options from there,” Wainwright said after the meeting, adding, “Based on our two land use board hearings, as well as direct feedback from the public, the project seems to have overwhelming support.”
Some of that support, in the audience June 25, addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“It’s not just an arcade. It’s a new type family fun center,” Lyndsay Menses, who lives on West 20th Street in the borough, said, noting the fun center would be open year ’round for young people to enjoy in a safe environment and it would create year-round jobs for that same audience instead of remaining an abandoned building.
Mayor William Huelsenbeck stopped Menses there, saying the former CVS was not an abandoned building.
“It was under contract with CVS,” Heulsenbeck said. “They wanted $2.5 or $3 million (to buy) or $200,000 (to rent). The person who owned it didn’t want to sell. There were a lot of people who wanted the building.”
Huelsenbeck included the borough in those interested in the building, noting borough officials inquired about it but no one ever returned their calls.
Wainwright Amusement successfully purchased the building earlier this year, nearly five years after CVS vacated the building in favor of the one on Barnegat Avenue, between Eighth and Ninth streets, in the borough.
— Gina G. Scala