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Mary Altaffer  

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during a break in action in the second half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 20, 2019, in New York. The 76ers won 112-108. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Atlantic City police add 18 to ranks to help community policing efforts
GALLERY: Eighteen Special Law Enforcement Officers elevated to full-time police officers

ATLANTIC CITY — The city’s Police Department took a step toward increasing its community policing efforts Friday afternoon when it added 18 officers to the force — the largest group of new officers added to the department in the past five years.

“Everybody is counting on you,” Chief Henry White Jr. told the officers before they were sworn in. “And counting on us to do the best we can do to serve and protect this community.”

Is it fair to compare Atlantic City, Las Vegas crime data?

David Schwartz read off the headlines of a Las Vegas newspaper Wednesday afternoon in quick succession; police were arresting suspects and investigating robberies and a shooting, but he paused to read further into the murder of a professor he knew.

As the 18 men and women, all of whom transitioned from part-time, Class II Special Law Enforcement Officers, took the oath in a crowded City Council chambers, family and friends cheered, clapped and whistled.

With their addition, the department now has a total of 267 officers.

Matthew Stollenwerk, 23, of Atlantic City, said it felt “really good” to be sworn in as a member of the Police Department, adding he “can’t wait to serve the community.”

White, Deputy Chief James Sarkos, Council President Marty Small and Mayor Frank Gilliam all spoke about the combined efforts of the state, city and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which funded a majority of the new officers.

Last month, the CRDA voted to provide $7.5 million over five years to allow the department to hire 15 officers as part of a community policing initiative. The idea is that adding more officers will free up a dozen veteran officers, who will be assigned to the city’s six wards in pairs as Neighborhood Coordination Officers, along with three officers who will be assigned to address vagrancy and homelessness in the Tourism District.

During a meeting of the city’s Boardwalk Committee on April 10, police Capt. Rudy Lushina said the veteran officers in each ward will help with issues residents have troubling navigating, including reporting buildings that need to be boarded up, litter or problems with neighbors and other quality-of-life issues.

Officers will hand out business cards with their city-assigned cellphone number for residents to contact them, Lushina said.

“Our goal is to not frustrate the citizens, but give them the best help they can when they call one number,” he said, adding it’s “designed to do long-term problem-solving.”

Increasing the number of officers and expanding community policing were mentioned as goals in both the department’s 2018 end-of-year report and a plan released by the state this week.

The implementation plan, prepared by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy and co-author of the state’s Atlantic City transition report, called for a full assessment of the department’s workforce capacity with a goal of increasing community policing through hiring new staff and Neighborhood Coordination Officers.

White said after the ceremony that the group is the largest he can remember being sworn in at once since he became chief in 2014.

“The more officers we get, the more robust we can be with our community policing initiative,” White said, adding the department is going to roll out the plan in the next three weeks.

This is the second time so far this year the department is adding full-time officers to the force. In February, seven Class IIs were elevated to police officers during a ceremony at City Hall, where seven officers were also promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

PHOTOS of Atlantic City police out on the beat

Somers Point's Bay Avenue continues moving toward diverse offerings

SOMERS POINT — Years ago, Bay Avenue was a place to party hard and drink too much with your friends, but the city is hoping to continue to change that reputation.

The demolition last month of Baia Restaurant, which was built on the spot of the legendary Bay Avenue club known as Bay Shores, gives the city another chance to diversify its offerings to pull in a more family-friendly audience, compared with the singles it used to attract with its clubs and bars during the 1960s and 1970s.

The plan is to replace Baia with an open-air beach bar setup with tents and trees, according to what Greg Sykora, chairman of the Somers Point Economic Development Advisory Commission, has heard.

“We needed to change the culture of Bay Avenue from a drunk fest to enjoying the environment, through music, through food, through drinking, through camaraderie, all those things,” Sykora said.

Many of those elements will be present Saturday along the avenue, as the city holds its 30th annual Bayfest.

The reopening of the Gateway Playhouse last year brought live theater back to the city, where it has been a tradition off and on for 100 years, said Sally Hastings, president of the Somers Point Historical Society.

Last month, the city was awarded a $130,000 grant from the state’s Department of Transportation to expand the Somers Point bike path.

The expansion will include construction of bike lanes on Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, which will be used to connect the existing bike path and the Route 52 multi-use path to the new Garden State Parkway multi-use path and bike lanes on Route 9.

This summer, the city also wants to open a transient marina at the end of Higbee Avenue, where someone who has a boat can dock for a short amount of time, experience Bay Avenue and leave, Sykora said.

“Our transient marina, we can brand it as Somers Point’s dock-and-dine: Come out, bring your boat, walk around the town and experience the great food and atmosphere of Bay Avenue,” Sykora said.

It has been decades since Bay Avenue was primarily known for drinking and partying. Both Bay Avenue in Somers Point and Amherst Avenue in Margate were once called the “Barbary Coast,” in reference to their excessive drinking.

This town once drew young crowds with their music and bars. Besides Bay Shores, there was the Gateway Casino, the Under 21 Club and Steele Ship Bar, which burned down in 1967. Its land was used as a parking lot for another club, Tony Mart’s. A venue called House of Booze with live music and bars sits there now.

The live music scene died down on Bay Avenue when Tony Mart’s closed in 1982, and DJs, not live musicians, were hired to keep people dancing at places such as Egos disco and Brownies by the Bay, which both once stood where Tony Mart’s was.

Carmen Marotta, 62, who took over management of Tony Mart’s with his brother, Tony Jr., during the mid-1970s, credits the late Herb “Bubba Mac” Birch with bringing live music back to Bay Avenue multiple nights a week, year-round, with the opening of the now defunct Bubba Mac Shack in 2000.

The Bubba Mac Shack was built where Harbor Lights and Markers once stood and was torn down in 2009 and is now an open plot of grass.

South Jersey guitar legend Lew London was a member of the Bubba Mac Blues Band, which used to play at the Bubba Mac Shack at least three times a week.

“That first summer, he (Birch) may have spent $1 million. He had Mavis Staples, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band,” said London, 68, of Egg Harbor Township. “The first five summers were magical in terms of music.”

The push to make the avenue more family-friendly began in the 1990s, Sykora said. That’s when the city made Bay Avenue and the district it is located within more walkable and better lit, with more of an emphasis on its historic characteristics.

At the same time, Marotta keeps the music scene alive, presenting bands through the Somers Point Beach Concerts series, which this summer will include Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre, Bonerama from New Orleans and CJ Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band.

GALLERY: A look back at Bay Avenue in Somers Point
GALLERY: Current images of Bay Avenue in Somers Point

tquan-pressofac / TRISHA QUAN / For The Press  

The former Baia restaurant was demolished this month after operating under a series of names over the decades.

N.J. green rush still a waiting game for companies hoping to sell medical marijuana

Business owners who had hoped last year to be one of the few authorized for growing, selling and delivering medicinal cannabis are biding their time as state lawmakers debate how to proceed.

“We’re still hoping to be licensed,” said Dr. Ira Trocki, chief operating officer of Relevant 1 LLC. Trocki and his business partner, Dr. Jon Regis, formed their medicinal cannabis company before the state Department of Health’s first round of open applications for new alternative therapy centers in July 2018.

Initially, 146 applicants submitted applications, knowing only six companies would be selected — two each in northern, central and southern New Jersey.

The department awarded the licenses in December, leaving many companies to either re-evaluate their situation or wait until another opportunity for legal marijuana cultivation in the state.

The Egg Harbor City warehouse Relevant 1 was approved by the city to redevelop as a medicinal marijuana facility remains empty.

With approval from the state, either by another round of licensing or legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, Trocki said the company would easily be able to repurpose the properties they own for the marijuana business.

Bills to legalize recreational marijuana use almost made it to a vote in the Legislature in March but were pulled at the last minute.

Other cities that prepared for marijuana expansion also seemed to feel left behind.

“We were more than ready,” said Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle.

Pleasantville City Council passed an ordinance to allow a medical marijuana facility ahead of the state’s application deadline. Tweedle and city officials were presented with plans for a dispensary that would allow the city to receive a percentage of the medical marijuana facility’s revenue.

Superior Grow Labs, along with development partner RGC3 LLC, purchased and began development on the former Press of Atlantic City building on Devins Lane for a dispensary. When the company was not selected, construction on the facility stopped.

Co-founder and co-CEO James DiNatale, whose company RGC3 purchased the Devins Lane property, declined to comment on the company’s status.

However, Tweedle said Thursday one of the national cannabis firms awarded licensing may look to lease the 35,000-square-foot building.

MPX New Jersey, a subdivision of Toronto-based commercial pharmaceutical MPX Biocueticals, was awarded licensing in the state and proposed a facility that would include growing and harvesting medical marijuana in Galloway Township.

Galloway Mayor Tony Coppola said the township signed the documentation needed for the MPX facility, but since they did there has not been any further development.

The other approved licensee in South Jersey, Columbia Care New Jersey, is expected to operate in Vineland.

Stockton University / submitted/  

More than 60 Stockton University supporters met Aug. 23 at Tavern on the Bay in Somers Point to raise funds for the Stockton Foundation’s Student Relief Fund. The fund assists Stockton students who encounter severe financial emergencies or experience catastrophic events, which make them financially vulnerable. The event featured a cocktail reception and live music. Shown from left are Dan Nugent, Stockton’s chief development officer and executive director of the foundation; Ira Trocki, partner, Reliance Medical Group; Vince Papaccio, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Reliance Medical Group; and Harvey Kesselman, Stockton president.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

Chief Heny White of Atlantic City Police speaks with reporter as part of the Reinventing AC Project at the Public Safety building in Atlantic City Monday Feb 11, 2019. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

50,000 people to fill Somers Point's Bay Avenue for Bayfest

SOMERS POINT — What began as a celebration of Earth Day 30 years ago has become one of South Jersey’s largest single-day festivals, and a showcase for historic Bay Avenue.

Bayfest — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday — draws more than 50,000 people each year, Councilman Ron Meischker said.

“It has had a major economic impact on the community,” said Meischker. “Our single-day event attracts upwards of 50,000 people that eat at our restaurants, buy our products and visit our attractions.”

The 30th annual festival is presented by the Somers Point Bayfest Committee, the city and local sponsors.

The Bayfest Committee uses proceeds from the event to fund special projects, such as playground equipment at the public beach, banners over Bay Avenue, improvements to Bud Kern Field and donations to the Mainland Regional High School Communication Arts Department.

The original organizers of the event felt it was important to do something to celebrate Earth Day, and from that point the festival grew organically and significantly, Meischker said.

“Over the years, our committee has worked extremely well together to put on one of the largest single-day festivals in New Jersey, and each year we continue to get bigger and better,” Geoffrey Hieb, Bayfest chairman, said in a statement.

The event features food, live music, vendors and informational displays by nonprofits and environmental groups.

“I think the event has been successful because it showcases Somers Point and allows the community to shine.” Meischker said.

Parking will be available at Bud Kern Field, Fire Hall No. 1 and the Gateway Playhouse. For more information, visit

GALLERY: Philadelphia Eagles visit Somers Point Bayfest