SOMERS POINT — Sometime soon, an upscale crowd may be able to catch a show at Bay Avenue’s rebuilt Gateway Playhouse and have drinks and dinner at one of the street’s stable of restaurants and bars without adding a single car to the area’s sometimes-scarce supply of summer parking spots.
That’s because these visitors from the future will arrive in Somers Point by water, and dock their sleek boats at a planned “transient marina” right off Bay Avenue, next to a little bayfront beach popular for its free summer concerts. And at some point, those boat-borne explorers should be able to stay in a new Somers Point hotel.
Those are just some of the plans the town has for its bayfront. Greg Sykora, the chairman of Somers Point’s Economic Development Advisory Council, can talk about many more. And he credits much of what’s coming to moves in recent years by local officials to streamline the planning and zoning processes and make them more helpful to people looking to open or expand businesses.
“People want to be part of what we have going on here, because they feel appreciated,” Sykora says.
What’s going on includes rebuilding the Gateway, which has long sat empty on Bay Avenue, right across the street from that beach and now the future marina. The town, which owns the theater, recently awarded a $675,000 contract to a Vineland firm that’s set to start construction this month, according to city Administrator Wes Swain.
Somers Point won a $1.5 National Boating Infrastructure grant to fund the marina, which will have 300 feet of docks and 35 slips. The Duke o’ Fluke party boat, which now runs from one of the old piers at that spot, is also set to be a tenant at the new marina, Sykora says.
But before those new docks can be built, the bay on the site has to be dredged to make way for the bigger boats the city hopes to attract. All the slips are designed to hold boats at least 30 feet long, Sykora says.
“If you leave Cape May in a boat that drafts more than 3 feet, now the closest spot you can go to dock is (Frank S. Farley State Marina at) Golden Nugget,” in Atlantic City, he says. “We want to be that halfway point that attracts people from all over South Jersey.”
Once the dredging is done, Sykora expects the actual dock-building to move fast enough for visitors to start using them by next year.
“We have high hopes for the summer of ’17,” Sykora said, on a visit to the future marina’s site.
A few blocks away on Bay Avenue, toward the bridge to Ocean City, a private developer also has plans to open a new restaurant and bar on a now-vacant site next to the Clam Bar. Gene Mitchell, the developer, reportedly plans to call that Ginger’s by the Bay, but he couldn’t be reached Monday for comment on his project.
Another plan for the new marina calls for it to host a water-taxi service between Somers Point and Ocean City. Sykora points out the growing popularity of the bridge linking the two towns, which has a protected lane for people to cross on foot or bicycles.
He notes that the new Garden State Parkway bridge now under construction over Great Egg Harbor Bay is set to have its own pedestrian and bike lane. And although the plans aren’t final, the access on the north side will be from Somers Point, he says.
But not everything happening in town is right by the water. The Planning Board has approved a new Home2 Suites hotel on MacArthur Boulevard, near the Windjammer Restaurant, and the town’s Sonesta ES Suites, on Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, recently finished a $5 million renovation, a spokeswoman said.
Plus on Route 9, “we went from 20 vacant store fronts … to now we have half of one,” Sykora added, referring to a former Burger King.
Still, a lot of the local focus is on Bay Avenue, particularly on bringing more business there without bringing more cars.
“We’re looking at (Atlantic City’s) jitneys … and we want to make it so that between them and Uber, it wouldn’t be so congested,” Sykora says. “We’re working on ways to really raise the bar in that area.”