The Monaco Motel's sign was still standing tall Tuesday next to the mounds of bent metal, collapsed concrete and other construction debris at the property's ongoing demolition site.
For decades, the Monaco Motel had been a popular place for vacationers to stay, located between South Little Rock and South Weymouth avenues on Ventnor's beach block.
It was the only motel in Ventnor and its neighboring Downbeach towns of Margate and Longport, said Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell.
But in the last decade or so, the business and its 52-unit building began declining, and about five years ago, the year-round operation came to a halt.
Since then, the vacant building, with its boarded-up windows and failing facade, had become an eyesore in Ventnor, easily seen from the Boardwalk and beach.
"I had people calling me all the time, saying, 'When are you going to do something with the property?'" Bagnell said.
That time is now.
Pelican Properties developer David Perlman purchased the property in May 2012 with plans to replace the dilapidated motel with 27 brand-new upscale townhouses, called The Waves, some of which will be five stories high and cost almost $1.3 million.
The demolition phase began earlier this week and is expected to be completed by the end of next week, said Bernard Styer, president of American Demolition.
Styer said the new property owners had asked that they save the motel's welcome sign as a nostalgic keepsake, which is why it hadn't been trampled over by a bulldozer. The construction phase is planned to begin immediately after demolition, and the project is projected to be complete around September 2015.
"It's great for Ventnor, it's great for Atlantic County and it's great for New Jersey," Perlman said of The Waves development.
Still, many people can't help but view the Monaco Motel's demise with a sense of nostalgia.
On Tuesday, Terry Roberts, a resident of Ventnor for more than 30 years, stood next to the fenced-in site watching as an excavator with a grapple attachment clawed at a large hole on the motel's second floor, grabbing a pile of splintered wood and broken cement and sending it into a large trash bin with a cloud of dust - another motel room or two gone.
"It's bittersweet," said Roberts, who stayed at the motel a few times. "I hate to see it go, it's the last hotel on the island, but the good news is the city needs the ratables."
Frank Tomasello, owner of Tomasello Auto Repair on the corner of Little Rock Avenue, down the street from the site, said he both watched the place go up and he's watching it come down.
"It was built in the '50s," Tomasello said, "and at the time I worked at a garage two blocks away and I used to come down and sit on the Boardwalk and eat my lunch while I watched it being built. I hate to see an old thing go, but I know it's for the best."
The Waves will include seven Boardwalk-front units, each five stories tall and selling at $1.3 million, and 20 beach-block townhouses, all with rooftop decks, selling at $749,000 each. Some amenities will include personal elevators, two-car garages, several decks and front and back yards. The project will also exceed new FEMA advisory maps adopted by Gov. Chris Christie, Purnell said.
Bagnell, who has seen the site plans, said he's excited about it.
"The demolition alone was a big deal for Ventnor," he said. "People walking by used to look at it and wince. We got calls from the Regency Towers Condominiums (a block away on Frankfort Avenue) all the time. They had to look at this."
The Waves "will be gorgeous," Bagnell said, and it will "increase the city's ratables, which is great."
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