After years of serving as part of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk, lumber destined for a landfill is getting a chance to serve a new purpose elsewhere.
The allure of the famed Boardwalk has the city planning an auction of the wood damaged in Hurricane Sandy. But even before the storm, city contractors renovating the Boardwalk sold the old planks to designers who turned them into custom-built tabletops, theater floorboards and outdoor benches.
“The fact that this was local was very attractive to us, and the historic nature of the Atlantic City Boardwalk also was attractive to us,” said Julie Gambone, director of product marketing for Forms + Surfaces, the company that designed a bench last year using Cumaru hardwood that once was part of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
The benches, which sell for $1,879, use material bought before Hurricane Sandy. However, the Pittsburgh company is donating 5 percent of the sales proceeds from the bench through April to the American Red Cross, Gambone said.
Nostalgia for Atlantic City, particularly in the aftermath of Sandy, has prompted the city to schedule one of its first known public auctions of Boardwalk planks damaged by the storm in the South Inlet, said Paul Jerkins, the city’s public works director. The auction, according to a City Council resolution, is set for 11 a.m. March 1 at Bader Field, where the lumber is being stored.
“We thought it was a good time, because people called wanting to buy it,” Jerkins said. “Some people wanted it as memorabilia.”
In the past, all of the wood removed from the Boardwalk through repairs and maintenance by the city’s internal carpentry division was thrown out, Jerkins said. This year will be the first time in the four years he has led the department that officials will auction off the old wood, he said.
“It keeps us from spending money to take it to a dump,” Jerkins said.
Some of the more damaged pieces have been donated to a public art project, Heartwalk, which will be on view until March 8 in Times Square in New York, said Eddie Lax, an aide to Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
City officials said they have no expectation of what they will get from the auctioned material.
Alan Solomon, the New York City-based operator of Sawkill Lumber Co., one of the better known suppliers of reclaimed wood from the Atlantic City Boardwalk, said that based on what he saw of the wood taken from the South Inlet, much of it was of a lower grade than in other parts of the Boardwalk or consists of substructure joists that likely won’t garner much money.
“Beyond that, it is fairly damaged from the excavator and machinery,” he said.
While the bench from Forms + Surfaces and other products are marketed as wood reclaimed from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk, the direct source of the lumber isn’t from the city. It’s from contractors who work with the city on extensive Boardwalk repair projects, Solomon said.
He said contractors will bid for Boardwalk repair jobs knowing they will be able to make money from selling the old lumber rather than carting it to a landfill. Those savings are supposed to be reflected in the bid price, he said.
Because large repair jobs occur only once every several years, the supply of reclaimed Boardwalk wood is low.
“It’s enormously popular, but it’s not just that available,” Solomon said.
His company, on its website, said the wood was used last year in rehabilitating the floorboards at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y., where Bob Dylan played when it reopened.
One of the reasons for their popularity is that boardwalks typically are made from tropical hardwoods, which are known for their high durability, but because consumers don’t want more trees and rainforests to be cut down, they turn to reclaimed wood, Solomon said.
“On top of that, you have the prominence of Atlantic City and ... romance, history and mystique of a boardwalk,” he said.
Reclaimed Boardwalk wood sold by Sawkill costs as much as $5 a linear foot, Solomon said.
Other shore communities have taken to auctioning Boardwalk wood, including Ocean City. In that case, officials had planned to use the wood for the Boardwalk but decided against it after choosing to move away from using tropical hardwoods.
Ocean City auctioned off two loads, one totaling 63 pieces and another with 74, on the Internet for a total of $4,502, or between $1.77 and $2.58 per foot, according to prices listed on govdeals.com.
While the source of reclaimed wood can be important to some consumers, others said it’s the look of some old lumber that is most important.
David Rubino, an architect involved in designing the Belly Wine Bar in Cambridge, Mass., said he and owners of the bar were at an antiques fair when they spotted hemlock wood that they were told was reclaimed from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
The lumber had exactly the look they could see fitting in with the old mill building where the Belly Wine Bar is located, Rubino said.
“We did our best to try to stay within our aesthetic,” he said.
While the history of the lumber may have been interesting, it was the look of the wood that sold them, Rubino said.
“Since the owners liked the material, we didn’t ask many questions about its origins,” he said.
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