WILDWOOD - Six years after demolition of the Rio Motel, one of Wildwood's circa-1958 doo-wop originals, a new hotel project is set to occupy the long-vacant lot at the corner of Rio Grande and Ocean avenues.
The Morey Organization plans to turn the space along the city's main entranceway into a six-story hotel that will be joined with the neighboring Starlux, a doo-wop-inspired hotel that opened in 2000. The two properties will merge into one hotel with a combined 140 units, including 34 from the Starlux, to be known as the Grand Wildwoodian. Construction is expected to begin in 2012, with a possible opening in 2013.
Although it would be smaller than other boutique hotels - such as The Chelsea, a 330-room, 20-story hotel built in 2008 in Atlantic City - it likely would be the largest in the Wildwoods in terms of number of units, said Steve Tecco, president of the Greater Wildwood Hotel & Motel Association.
"We see it really working with the convention center," said Morey's planner Clark Doran, noting that studies conducted prior to the 2002 opening of the city's beachfront Wildwoods Convention Center mentioned the need for more modern accommodations on the island.
The hotel, expected to cost more than $10 million, would include a sixth-floor banquet facility, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool on three levels, and a ground-floor 124-seat restaurant.
The hotel's look, designed by architect Richard Stokes of Philadelphia, would be in keeping with the Starlux and other doo-wop motels known for their angular roofs and kidney-shaped pools.
City officials such as Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. had long hoped a proposed 25-story high-rise hotel would fill the vacant lot, but that proposal met resistance from the state Department of Environmental Protection and came about during an economic downturn.
In a 2006 letter denying the high-rise application, a DEP official noted that it was possible only because of the destruction of the Rio Motel. "This project resulted in the destruction of a historic or potentially historic property," the report read.
Troiano said Wednesday he would have liked to see a high-rise - possibly a 15-story building - in the Rio Motel's place, but given the current economic conditions, which saw new construction and demolitions slow, he welcomed any development.
"I'm tired of seeing a vacant lot there. Any kind of new hotel is a plus for the community," Troiano said. "I'm glad to see any building going up."
Like Doran, he noted the need for rooms to support the island's convention center, which sits just blocks away from the site.
"We need new rooms. We need more rooms," Troiano said.
The island has 8,000 motel or hotel rooms, Tecco said, adding that at its height, there were 12,000 rooms.
Will Morey, president of the company, said the hotel not only will add rooms but also support the shoulder season - the months before and after the summer that are filled with events.
"We have the Starlux and we saw an opportunity to add to that and enhance it," Morey said.
After the high-rise proposal stalled, the Morey Organization stepped in with plans for a hotel that would be compatible with the Starlux.
The Starlux once was the Wingate Motel, a four-story 1950s motel that has since been redesigned into a boutique hotel aimed at drawing visitors looking for modern features with 1950s style.
Morey said the name Starlux will be replaced once the new hotel is built and the two are combined. Planning documents, submitted to the city, use the name Grand Wildwoodian or the Grand Wildwood Inn.
During a discussion this week on Wildwood's commercial real estate prospects, Morey spoke of his belief that new projects are crucial for the island's economic well-being.
"Growth only comes from investment," Morey said.
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