CAPE MAY — City Council has introduced an ordinance that would allow the purchase of the former Vance’s Bar property on Lafayette Street for almost $2 million.

The council, which will hold a public hearing and vote on the ordinance in May, plans to use the land as part of a new 38-acre park on the north side of town.

“It is the last open space we have for recreational purposes. It provides recreation and additional parking we sorely need,” Mayor Ed Mahaney said.

The city has wanted the property for years. In 2004 City Council adopted, but then repealed, an ordinance allowing the use of eminent domain to take the 1.7-acre property. At that time it was owned by Henry Wise Sr. and his wife, Florence, who bought the property decades ago from Joe Vance and used it to run a liquor store and bar.

Appraised at a little more than $1 million in 2004 the property was sold by the Wise family to a condominium developer for $2.69 million after they had turned down the city’s offer of $1.1 million The city is now purchasing it for nearly $1.96 million from a bank following a failed plan to construct condominiums on the property.

In 2004 the city wanted the property to construct a new city hall, police station and library. Those plans were scrapped. The city’s library was refurbished and City Hall is undergoing renovations.

The city now wants the land for a park project. Council recently bonded $3.4 million to purchase the Vance’s Bar property and two lots on St. John Street. The money will also fund demolition of the bar and all soft costs, including legal fees, appraisals, for the project. The state Green Acres and Blue Acres programs are funding nearly $1.57 million of the project, with the rest coming from a local open-space fund.

Mahaney said the $3.4 million does not include any improvements to the park once all the land is acquired, but he promised public hearings in the future on any plans to develop the park. The first step is to get the land.

Landscape architect students from Temple University have already drafted designs for the park that were displayed to the public several years ago.

The park also will include land owned by Cape May Elementary School and what is left of a 19th century golf course. Vance’s Bar is a key piece. It became available when the proposed 24-unit condominium project The Riviera at Cape May failed after the real estate market faltered and toxic materials from a former coal gasification plant raised questions about the site. Mahaney said no excavation is planned, and it will only be used for surface level recreation and parking.

City Solicitor Tony Monzo said the state Department of Environmental Protection is providing about half the funding for the park acquisition through Green Acres and Blue Acres.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711