MARGATE — Fifty years ago, Lucy the Elephant was an orphan facing a long, slow death by neglect.

Now, she has a city government and a nonprofit vying for the right to represent her interests. And the two groups seem to have found a way to co-parent, even if there is still some disagreement over who owns the pachyderm hotel-turned-tourist attraction.

Each group is expected to vote in the coming week to approve a new 20-year lease agreement that renews automatically every five years and gives the city more representation on the Save Lucy Committee’s board.

It also promises, as previous leases have, that no development will happen on the Lucy property without the committee’s permission.

“I think the vote’s going to be positive for both boards. It’s been six or eight years in the making, and both sides have come to a mutual understanding of what’s in Lucy’s best interest,” said Lucy the Elephant Executive Director Rich Helfant. The Save Lucy Committee board is set to vote on the lease Sunday.

“I would hope (for a positive Lucy committee vote),” said Mayor Michael Becker. “A lot of work went into this. I don’t see any problems.”

City Commission is set to vote on the lease July 18 but will only take a vote if the Lucy committee approves it Sunday, Becker said.

The old lease runs out at the end of the year, and if the new one passes both entities, it will take effect immediately.

The language that requires the Lucy committee to agree to any proposed development is essential, Helfant said.

“It’s most important because of all the speculation and craziness that happened about a year ago, with rumors of a hotel being built,” he said.

About a year ago, the owners of Ventura’s Greenhouse restaurant next to Lucy were considering building a multistory hotel, and City Commission proposed creating a hotel zone overlay along Atlantic Avenue between Cedar Grove and Coolidge avenues, which included the Lucy property.

It caused an outcry in town, with residents saying Margate’s residential character was being threatened, and some Lucy supporters feeling her future on the oceanfront was in doubt. After much protest, commissioners announced the hotel overlay zone was dead.

“That was overdone,” said Becker, adding no one ever proposed changing the residential character of the city or taking Lucy’s land.

Becker said he has always been opposed to any large-scale development in Margate, but feels the city could use a small venue where people can stay overnight.

The votes on the lease are slated to happen just as the Lucy committee, which runs the tourist attraction and has raised all the money to renovate the iconic structure for 50 years, embarks on a $500,000 exterior surface restoration project, Helfant said.

“Because Lucy has been painted so many times since restoration began in 1970, we can’t paint her anymore. It bubbles off,” Helfant said. “It needs to be stripped down to the bare metal and repainted.”

If you look closely at Lucy’s hide, you can see how the paint is bubbling and peeling, Helfant said.

This summer, paint will be stripped off Lucy’s belly and legs, and different coating products will be tried in each part.

“We will let them weather for a year,” Helfant said. “At the end of the year, we will determine which held up the best.”

Then next year the rest of Lucy will be stripped and repainted.

“It’s a major undertaking,” Helfant said.

To help raise the half-million dollars needed, the committee is selling commemorative coins for $19.69 each (for 1969, the year of the group’s founding).

“We are trying to have a yearlong celebration,” Helfant said. “We’ll start on Lucy’s birthday this year, then next year July 20 will be the 50th anniversary of the day we moved her from Cedar Grove Avenue to Decatur (Avenue) — we’ll have a parade to commemorate.”

In 1970, the newly formed committee arranged for a house mover to jack Lucy up onto dollies attached to a pickup truck and pull her two blocks to where she sits today, Helfant said.

“Everybody thought she would crumble, but it survived,” said Helfant, who was 13 at the time and remembers it took seven hours to move her two blocks. “The next part of her history was started.”

Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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