Wildwood’s expanding beach is a commodity, to be sure.
The beach, which runs for 26 city blocks and measures more than 1,600 feet (that’s more than five football fields) from the Boardwalk to the water’s edge, can at once hold thousands of youth soccer players, sun worshippers, kite fliers, Frisbee throwers and sand castle builders.
Now Wildwood, along with many other New Jersey beach communities, is searching for ways to turn its beach into a moneymaker through a wide range of concessions, including horse and pony rides, beach bars, outdoor events and cabana rentals.
The city has not issued official estimates on how much money it expects to generate, but examples of revenue sources include beach boxes — rented for the summer as storage for visitors — available for $400 for the season; recreational vehicles being allowed to camp on the beach for $150 per day; permit fees for horseback riding at $50 for the season; camping on the beach at a group rate of two days for $1,500 and multiple-day permit for $2,500; and a concession fee of $49,000 a year for a surfing instructional beach program.
Wildwood is even leasing a building, formerly the headquarters of annual monster truck competitions, for $1.6 million — money that is included in this year’s budget.
Beaches in Wildwood are the biggest in the state, so the opportunities for using them to make money are many. Already, the city’s wide beaches allow it to host, besides the monster truck and motocross events, a Boy Scout jamboree and one of the world’s largest outdoor soccer tournaments.
Some of the entrepreneurial ideas, such as adding a recreational vehicle campground near the border with Wildwood Crest, have met opposition, but all are examples of new ways the city is considering using the beach here.
How a municipality uses its beach varies from town to town.
While the state Department of Environmental Protection requires Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permits for permanent structures, what events take place on a beach are “really up to each municipality,” said DEP spokesman Bob Considine.
Events are what Ventnor is looking at to produce revenue. “Up until now, not much went on on the beach,” said Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell.
Bagnell’s plans include the addition of a whole day of live music, face painters and martial-arts displays on Friday, the day of the neighboring Atlantic City Airshow.
Ventnor, which unlike Wildwood does require beach badges, also recently approved an ordinance to allow beach parties for a $50 fee that can be held on two specific beaches at night after the lifeguards have left. Ventnor is also considering adding advertisements to its lifeguard stands.
The idea, Bagnell said, is to create events that will draw people and in turn tourist dollars. That could soon include clam cooking competitions and other new events.
Ventnor has even formed a new board of tourism and promotion with a focus on the beach.
Atlantic City Business Administrator Ron Cash said the city has four beach bars, including The Beach Bar at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar at Bally’s, Trump Plaza Beach Bar and a soon to be opened beach bar at Revel.
Cash said the beach bars are covered under a four-year, lease-rental agreement, and that the beachfront amenitites are a draw for visitors and locals alike. He added that even when he has visitors, he takes them to the beach bars.
The leasing of the beach brought in $175,000 to the city in 2011 and $210,000 in 2012, according to the city.
Don Marrandino, the Eastern Division President for Caesars Entertainment, which operates Bally’s Atlantic City, said the casino’s beach bar, which opened in 2003, has been an important addition.
“Over those 10 years, we’ve done tens of millions of dollars at the beach bar. It gives people an unusual experience,” Marrandino said. “It’s a real fun afternoon or evening.”
Marrandino said the beach bar also employs about 40 people from Memorial Day through Labor Day and draws thousands of visitors each summer.
The casino partnered with musician Sammy Hagar to create the bar known as Sammy’s Beach Bar. The celebrity angle, Marrandino said, adds to the beach bar’s appeal.
Everything from family cookouts to concerts also are allowed on the beaches, with most requiring a permit from the city.
“We welcome special events from volleyball tournaments to recreation programs,” Cash said.
Marrandino added that events such as the recent Tribeca Film Festival here and offerings such as parasailing also enhance the city’s beach.
Marrandino said he welcomed concerts such as the recent Kenny Chesney concert held in Wildwood
“The more recreational stuff the better,” Marrandino said.
In Ocean City, the beaches also require beach tags.
The city sponsors numerous summer events and hosts a couple of hundred weddings on the beach each year, but there are few moneymaking events held on the beach, said Jim Mallon director of community services for Ocean City.
“Each one of us as a community is a little bit different,” Mallon said.
Cash offered some advice to Wildwood as it expands its beach amenities.
“I would say ‘Do You,’” he said, borrowing from the current city slogan DO AC. “Wildwood has a family tradition, so find ways to bring families in.”
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