SEA ISLE CITY — The city’s five-year plan to redo its main entranceway is nearly complete.
The last of the work, the federally-funded $3.5 million reconstruction of John F. Kennedy Boulevard, should be done before Memorial Day.
That will be the capstone of the Beach to Bay project officials have touted for years with a list of almost $8 million in municipal projects to beautify the central corridor stretching from the marina to the promenade.
“When you come over the bridge now, we’re going to have probably the nicest entranceway of any shore community in South Jersey, if not the whole state,” said Chris Glancey, president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce.
The goal was also to give visitors more to do by bringing in extra family entertainment options and improve pedestrian access between attractions. That has been accomplished through both public works projects and public-private partnerships.
Once completed, officials hope the work serves to attract more people to spend more time and money in the resort while making the island a nicer place for residents to live.
“We think that whole stretch of land will be one of the many gems in our crown,” said Katherine Custer, public information director for the city.
The city’s list of improvements along the corridor since 2008 have included:
- More than $1.4 million in renovations to the marina by the Ludlam Thorofare Bridge, with new bulkheads, a boardwalk, landscaping and lighting completed in 2009
- The construction of Veterans Memorial Park at JFK Boulevard and Landis Avenue in 2010 for $677,770
- A new building for marina services completed in 2011 for $607,596
- The new band shell at Excursion Park and the pavilion on the promenade in 2011 for $2 million
- Renovations to the basketball courts and playgrounds on JFK Boulevard in 2011 for $643,258
- Renovations to the municipal boat ramp in 2011 for $223,834
- Reconstruction of JFK Boulevard from Landis Avenue to the Promenade in 2012, with new seating, parking and landscaping for $1.2 million
- Demolition of the former library building and construction of a new parking lot in 2012 for $204,719
- Opening a new Welcome Center and renovated community lodge in 2012 for $906,967
These projects have coincided with the city leasing public land near the bay to host Gillian’s Funland, the only amusement park in the city after its only other one closed almost a decade before. The 10-year lease, which sends 10 percent of gross revenue to the city, started in 2009.
Meanwhile, merchants along Park Road have joined forces with the municipal government to promote Fish Alley, the strip of historic fish markets and dockside restaurants visitors pass as soon as they come on the island.
An attractive sign above the entrance, a memorial to the area’s heritage and the annual fall festival Harborfest are all recent additions that have renewed interest in that part of the community.
All of this serves to create a more favorable first impression of the island, enhancing the unimpeded ocean view drivers get as they crest the bridge over the bay, officials said.
“Whether you’ve been in Sea Isle before or it’s your first time, you’re going to say, ‘Wow,’” said Glancey, who also owns Diamond’s Liquor Store near JFK and Landis. “That’s what we were going for — that wow factor — and I think we’ve very much succeeded in that.”
Mayor Len Desiderio said the concept was initially discussed around 2005 and was eventually broken into three phases, the last of which is the county’s current overhaul of JFK Boulevard, which will raise the road and widen sidewalks.
Another eventual change will likely be the construction of a new city hall complex to replace the outdated public safety building that the government has abandoned due to flood damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The new building may be built by sometime next year.
“That’ll be phase four,” Desiderio said. “That was unforeseen.”
Grace Curran, owner of Grace Curran Realty and a longtime Sea Isle resident, has watched the years of work from her office on neighboring West Jersey Avenue. She said the work enhances the appearance of the island but also gives people more of a reason to visit.
She said the free concerts held in Excursion Park, next to the Promenade, have been a popular draw for families. So has the Funland amusement park, and together they have dramatically expanded nighttime offerings for families, enticing them to stay downtown longer.
The city is nowhere near the size of other major shore resorts, such as Ocean City and Wildwood, but she said the Beach to Bay project has served to maximize the space available.
“We’re just this small little town, but we made a big impact in what we can offer people to come visit,” she said.
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