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DAVID DANZIS/Staff Writer///  

Bart Blastein, owner of Showboat Hotel Atlantic City, said he wants to build an expansion on a vacant adjoining lot to offer casino gaming after receiving regulatory approval from the Casino Control Commission for a statement of compliance on Monday, March 18, 2019.

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Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Brandon Brooks shoves Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith on Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. The Eagles have signed Brooks to a four-year contract extension that makes him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Edward Lea  

Before Playground Pier, the property connected to Caesars Atlantic City by skybridge was the Pier Shops at Caesars and the Ocean One Mall.

Following shooting, Pleasantville returns to field for one last game

PLEASANTVILLE — The Pleasantville High School football team will play one more game Thursday morning.

The Greyhounds will relish the opportunity, after an emotional and harrowing two weeks. Pleasantville’s last game was the Central Jersey Group II semifinal against Camden. That contest Nov. 15 was interrupted by gunfire.

Pleasantville will finish its season with its annual Thanksgiving rivalry contest against Ocean City. Kickoff is 10 a.m. at Ocean City.

“Everybody is looking forward to going out and playing well,” Greyhounds coach Chris Sacco said, “and letting the kids be kids.”

Two people were injured, and 10-year-old Micah Tennant was fatally shot. Six men have been charged in the shooting, including a 27-year-old man who was shot. Authorities have said he was targeted by the shooter. A 15-year-old boy also was grazed in the incident. The suspected gunman faces charges including murder, two counts of attempted murder and weapons offenses.

“We want to finish out strong for Micah,” said Greyhounds senior running back and linebacker Ernest Howard, who has switched his number from No. 2 to No. 10 to honor Tennant. “It’s definitely going to be nice to get back out there and get into my regular football mindset and just try to bring home a win.”

The game was resumed at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, on Nov. 20. Camden won 22-0.

“Things didn’t end the way we wanted them to in multiple ways,” Sacco said. “But I do think the kids are excited for (Thursday’s) opportunity.”

For Pleasantville seniors, Thursday will be the final game of their high school careers.

Sacco gave the Greyhounds off last weekend. They returned to practice Monday.

“Everything in practice has been amped up,” Howard said. “We’re flying around, getting to the ball. We’re moving around better now. Everybody has processed things. We’re not stressed.”

Several traditional Thanksgiving rivalries will be played Thursday, including Vineland at Millville and Holy Spirit at Atlantic City. The Pleasantville/Ocean City match-up should be one of Thursday’s most intriguing. The rivalry started in 1917, and Ocean City leads the series 50-42-6. Pleasantville (8-2) has a chance to finish with nine wins for the first time in more than 20 years.

Pleasantville has made a remarkable resurgence since Sacco took over the program in 2015. The Greyhounds were 3-47 from 2010-14. This will be their third straight winning season,

Meanwhile, Ocean City (8-3) also has plenty to play for. The Red Raiders lost in the South Jersey Group IV final to Shawnee last Friday. Ocean City has a chance to win nine games for the first time since 2001.

“Even though there’s no state championship on the line, we’re still going out there to play against a really good, really well-coached team,” Sacco said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us. I think our kids like challenges.”

That Pleasantville’s final game falls on Thanksgiving makes the contest even more special.

“I know I’m speaking for the staff when I say I’m very thankful for the kids that we get to coach,” Sacco said. “Having the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving morning, this year it’s going to be extra special for us to play one last game together.”

Thanksgiving rivalry: Ocean City vs. Pleasantville

Salvatores of Cape May County inducted into New Jersey Hall of Fame

LOWER TOWNSHIP — Last month, a longtime Cape May County couple joined the likes of James Gandolfini, Jon Stewart, Meryl Streep, Thomas Paine and Walt Whitman.

Joe and Anne Salvatore were inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame on Oct. 27 under the Unsung Heroes category for their work on projects in the county, namely the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum and Historic Cold Spring Village.

“We were ecstatic,” Anne said at Cold Spring Brewery on Monday. “I mean, we were so excited.”

“We didn’t think we were really worthy of that,” Joe said. “I mean, Frank Sinatra, Martha Stewart.”

They received the news from the hall in September, after being nominated by Norris Clark, managing partner of Princeton Strategic Communications and a former deputy mayor of Lower Township.

“I am quite familiar with Joe and Annie Salvatore’s many good works, and they are richly deserving of this honor,” said Jon Hanson, chairman of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

As curators of Cape May history, their own history in the county, and state, runs deep. Joe hails from Wildwood, and Anne is from Ridgewood, Bergen County. They met in the 1960s at what was then called Englewood Hospital, where Joe was an orthopedic surgeon and Anne was a nurse educator. They were working on a fractured femur when they first met. Her license plate still reads ‘FEMUR,’ and his email address has “femur” in it.

Wildwood to resume construction on Rio Grande Avenue next week

WIDLWOOD — Portions of Rio Grande Avenue will be detoured or closed off next week as the city resumes construction expected to be completed before next summer, the Cape May County Department of Tourism and Public Information said Thursday in a news release.

The two married in 1967 and bought the 35 acres where their home sits and where they would later develop Historic Cold Spring Village. They got permission from the township in 1973 to open a living history museum. They split the acreage in 1975 and began transporting historic buildings and homes from the area into the budding village, where visitors can walk among 18th and 19th century buildings including homes and a bookbinder shop. They opened it to the public in 1981. It would later be organized under a nonprofit, the HCSV Foundation, of which Anne is president and executive director.

The village hosts events year-round and is a popular spot for weddings and field trips.

In 1995, Joe began negotiations to stop the demolition of the hangar at the Cape May Airport. Joe saw its potential and secured the building for $1, but had his work cut out for him.

“Just an empty building filled with bird droppings,” Anne said. “It was a big hole in the roof, 100 by 150 feet.”

After earning a place on the National Register of Historic Places soon after opening to the public in 1997, the NASW Foundation, of which Joe is chairman, has been awarded more than $6 million in grants and has filled the cavernous space with aircraft from a range of American wars and artifacts from the airport’s time as an active dive bomber training station in World War II.

It is dedicated to the 42 men who died training there from 1943 to 1945.

Joe is still on the lookout for new aircraft “every day,” and the organization receives smaller artifacts on a weekly basis from individual donors, such as photos of airmen, newspaper clippings, propellers and other equipment.

The most recent big addition to the space was a Grumman F6F Hellcat, which arrived in April. Joe has plans for a STEM museum upstairs at the hangar and has received donated exhibits for it from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Cold Spring Village, too, is always expanding.

In 2015, the Salvatores found a barn built during the Jefferson presidency in the Palermo section of Upper Township. The owner wanted to sell it for its beams. Joe offered to take it off the owner’s hands for more than he’d make from the scrapped lumber, if he would transport it to the village.

A year and a half later, Cold Spring Brewery opened on the property and has been a boon for the nonprofit.

“The brewery is saving the village, moneywise,” Joe said. “This earns money. The village always needs support.”

Asked what the Salvatores are proudest of, they didn’t hesitate.

“Our children,” Joe said.

Rick Salvatore, 51, and Kate Salvatore, 49, are both psychiatrists in Princeton. They were raised in North Jersey but spent summers at the village. Rick made brooms and Kate ran a little toy shop, Anne said.

The Salvatores settled down full time in Cape May upon retiring and have five grandchildren. There was no question they would return, they said.

“It’s a whole different lifestyle. It’s slow,” Anne said. “It’s like being back in time.”

Look Back at Naval Air Station Wildwood in World War II

Edward Lea / staff photographer  

After saying in 2015 that he would invest nearly $50 million into Playground Pier, Bart Blatstein attempted to revitalize the property by opening up new amenities, including nightlife, entertainment spaces and dining options.

What is going on with Playground Pier?

ATLANTIC CITY — Diane Washburne and Mary-Lou Paglia walked across the skybridge over the Boardwalk from Caesars Atlantic City to the Playground Pier and stopped before getting to the escalator.

The two women from Poughkeepsie, New York, seemed puzzled about what they saw and heard.

Or, more accurately, what they did not see or hear.

“It’s like a ghost town in here,” said Washburne, 63. “It’s so quiet and dark. It’s really eerie.”

Paglia, 68, said in its current state, the Playground did not “vaguely resemble” the bustling retail and dining destination she remembered from a few years ago.

A look back at the Ocean One Mall in Atlantic City

“It’s really, really sad that anyone could allow this to happen,” she said, gesturing to several closed storefronts. “What are they doing with this place?”

For now, no one really knows.

Playground’s management, Tower Investments Inc., declined to comment for this story. Philadelphia-based developer and Tower CEO Bart Blatstein, who holds a long-term lease on the pier through Caesars Entertainment Corp., did not respond to a message left for him Tuesday.

After publicly stating in 2015 that he would invest nearly $50 million into the property, Blatstein — who owns the Showboat Atlantic City Hotel and the closed Garden Pier across from Ocean Casino Resort — attempted to revitalize the Playground Pier by opening up new amenities, including nightlife, entertainment spaces and dining options.

But four years later, the pier is a shell of what it once was.

Gone are recognizable brand-name stores, such as the Apple Store, Tommy Bahama and Gucci. There are remnants of once-heralded, yet ultimately failed, ventures, such as T-Street (a Nashville- and Memphis-themed food and entertainment district) and the Wav, a multilevel, 20,000-square-foot nightclub.

A property directory has nearly all of the once-opened retailers covered with electrical tape. There are just 10 retail merchants in the pier — once known as the Ocean One Mall and the Pier Shops at Caesars — along with four restaurants, a frozen-drink shop, a sporadically open comedy club and the television studios of Triax 57.

One Atlantic Events also has on-site offices for those looking to host private parties, weddings and other functions.

But the desolate and uninviting space scared away at least one prospective couple who were in town for the weekend.

“I’ve always wanted to get married by the ocean and really wanted to do it in Atlantic City,” said Krista Collins, 29, of Hellertown, Pennsylvania.

Collins and her fiance, Mark Burroughs, said they researched venues online and came across a website for One Atlantic Events. After walking around the nearly vacant space overlooking the ocean, the happy couple realized their search had to continue.

“There’s no way we could have a wedding here,” Burroughs said. “I would be too embarrassed. This place looks unfinished and, honestly, a little depressing.”

The despair is felt among those who are still operating businesses inside the pier as well. Although none of the employees from a handful of stores wanted to use their names for fear of losing their jobs, several said not knowing what the vision was for the pier was the most worrisome.

“Every day, I walk up to the (front) doors expecting them to be locked,” said one manager of a retail space, who requested that nothing be written that would identify them. “I have days when not a single customer walks through those doors and I wonder, ‘What are we doing here?’”

Another pier retail store employee said when the big-name stores started to leave, the remaining merchants were told “bigger and better” tenants were coming.

“We were lied to,” the employee said. “No one is coming here, and there is no reason to believe things are going to get better. There is no plan for this place. It’s a shame.”

With that, the employee left for lunch, putting a handwritten sign on the door of the business saying “Be back soon.”

“I don’t even know why I bother putting that up,” they said. “It’s not like there’s anyone here anyway.”

GALLERY: A look at the Playground Pier