A light breeze flowed off the ocean near the freshly landscaped marble flower beds at Atlantic City’s Garden Pier as Northfield resident Andrew Jusino peered out to sea, checking the surf.
Jusino lifted his hand to shade his eyes as he squinted into the distance. He could have walked out hundreds of feet farther — and closer to the surf — were it not for the large orange barricade and cones blocking the entrance. On the barricade hung a sign: “Garden Pier is closed for storm repairs.”
Despite a $3.3 million overhaul less than a year ago, the pier and its attractions — the Atlantic City Historical Museum and the Atlantic City Arts Center — have remained shuttered for nearly 10 months. Black tarps cover parts of the roof of the Arts Center where many tiles are missing.
“It’s really a shame. It’s beautiful out here. I’ve brought my kids out here,” said Jusino, 44, who was raised in Atlantic City.
Jusino, like many other locals and visitors, wasn’t quite sure what is housed at Garden Pier these days, nor is he exactly sure why it’s closed. Today, the only sections open to the public are restrooms fronting the Boardwalk. It’s a confusing site for many who knew the Garden Pier that stood for years as a fixture on the city’s eyesore list with a well-worn fountain and crumbling amphitheater.
Today, those fixtures have been removed, revealing an expansive, open-air plaza at the pier at New Jersey Avenue and the Boardwalk. Holes in the buildings have been patched, and new lighting and landscaping make the pier look distinctly remodeled against the older sections of Boardwalk.
Yet the pier has remained closed as the city and its insurance company struggle to reach a settlement on damage the pier sustained during Hurricane Sandy almost 10 months ago. The renovated pier, which had been shut down for a year, was open less than two months when the hurricane hit. It sustained significant roof damage.
Garden Pier has long been the subject of talks of rehabilitation. For years, it landed on the city’s eyesore list, and has been shut down several times due to structural concerns. The city has also made several failed attempts to rid itself of the pier all together. A plan to sell the pier was floated in 1989 and again 10 years later, when City Council rejected a plan to give the pier to MGM Grand Inc.
Instead, the city has made financial contributions to keep the pier running. Most recently that included a $1.5 million contribution for renovations, matched by an additional $1.5 million investment by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and a $300,000 investment by the state.
The CRDA has no role in the ongoing repairs, spokeswoman Kim Butler said.
“It’s entirely a city issue at this point and something that they’re working out with their insurance provider,” Butler said.
Specifics of the insurance issue and how much money is at stake remain unclear. City officials, including Public Works Director Paul Jerkins, Engineer William England, and Health and Human Services Director Wilbur Banks, whose department oversees the attractions on the pier, did not return calls.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford had named the reopening of the pier one of the city’s priorities for the year. His spokesman, Eddie Lax, also did not return requests for comment.
Atlantic City Public Library Director Maureen Frank, who runs the museum, confirmed that insurance issues are to blame for the delay but said she could not provide specifics.
“People ask all the time about why we’re not open. We’re hopeful that we can open this year, but we can’t commit to that,” Frank said. “The city of Atlantic City is working very hard to get both facilities reopened.”
It’s also been a less than auspicious celebration for a pier that turned 100 on July 19 without a hint of fanfare. The Atlantic City Public Library, which runs the pier’s museum, has an anniversary exhibit planned that’s yet to be displayed.
First opened to the public in 1913, Garden Pier was named for the flower displays that once decorated the center of the structure. Once extending out 1,500 feet, the pier housed the B.F. Keith’s Theater, where a grand ballroom featuring vaudeville acts was located and the first Miss America pageant was held.
The city purchased the site in 1944 after performances in the ballroom had become increasingly infrequent.
Trivia such as that would be included in the exhibit designed by the library, Frank said. The library has an extensive collection of postcards and photographs of the pier over the years that would be included in a temporary exhibit. A separate exhibit on the history of the Miss America Competition in light of its return to the resort this year is also planned if the museum is permitted to reopen, Frank said.
Jeff and Gemma McCourt, of Brigantine, said they could be enticed to check out new exhibits on the pier. On a recent weekend the couple stopped just outside the barricade to take a picture of a sailboat on the ocean.
“They fixed it all up nice. They should be using it,” Jeff McCourt said. “They really need some cultural attractions ... more family-oriented things to get people out here.”