WILDWOOD — Visitors looking to spend a day on the beach this summer will have a new place to park their cars when arriving in town — the beach itself.
The city is moving forward with plans to open a beach parking lot next to the convention center on Baker Avenue that is expected to bring in six-figure dollar amounts in surplus money.
The city tunneled under the Boardwalk to create the access point.
In the next few weeks, officials will set up a ticket booth on the beach next to the convention center. Beach parking will run on weekends starting Memorial Day and will be open seven days a week starting the third week of June, according to Wildwood Commissioner Pete Byron.
Parking passes will be $10 for the day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and $20 for special events.
There were talks of starting this last year, but bad weather delayed construction on the access point at Baker Avenue, Byron said. This year, the access point is ready for the beginning of the season.
The cost of creating the access point at Baker Avenue was $45,000 because the city used its own Public Works department to do the job.
“This is a really good way to help offset the tremendous costs of running the beach,” Byron said. “It also creates another opportunity for parking, and uses part of the beach that doesn’t normally get utilized.”
Wildwood has one of the largest beaches in South Jersey, and the city has routinely worked on new ideas to use up the space. Some of those ideas have included concerts and youth sports tournaments.
Parking on the beach will be a new concept for Wildwood, but not for South Jersey.
Brigantine has had parking on its beach since the 1950s.
But the plans for Wildwood and Brigantine are very different.
In Brigantine, the city sells and gives out about 6,000 beach parking passes per year, according to Mayor Phil Guenther. Last year, the city sold 3,363 regular permits, 1,226 discounted permits to senior citizens, and gave out 1,678 to military veterans for free, Guenther said. The permits are only eligible for people who operate four-wheel drive automobiles. Overall, Brigantine made about $719,000 in 2017.
That number could decrease this year because parking on the north end of the beach will be restricted due to endangered species in the area.
Regardless, police in Brigantine have the authority to turn people with a permit away if the beach is too crowded.
“We sell thousands of permits, but there are never that many cars on the beach,” councilman Vince Sera said. “The most you get on a busy day is usually a few hundred.”
People who park on the beach in Brigantine sometimes set up areas that resemble a tailgate at a football game. Others fish there.
The setup in Wildwood, however, will be completely different.
People will be able to park on the beach but will bring all their gear away from there. The beach there is not near the water, so fishing is out as well.
The lot will also close at 6 p.m., a half hour after the lifeguards go off duty, so it doesn’t compete with private parking lots in the area.
Parking on the beach at night could be permitted during special events, Byron said. The city has portable lights it can set up for an event.
Byron said he hopes to bring in six figures this summer.
“I’d be really happy with $125,000-$150,000 for this summer,” he said, adding that the ticket booth will accept credit cards and pre-paid tickets through a phone app. “I don’t think it will be expanding beyond the area we have right now because we have a lot going on all along the beach.”