ATLANTIC CITY — With the shuttered Revel looming in the background, Bill Sheridan soaked up the sun on the quiet Rhode Island Avenue beach, miles from the bustle of the center of the city.
Here, Sheridan and a growing group of others have found their own little summer oasis, a stark contrast to struggles on the section of Boardwalk behind them.
There’s free parking and a family atmosphere.
“I can park 10 feet away and not have to worry about paying for parking,” said Sheridan, 66, of Millville, looking out over a placid ocean. “Why not come here?”
The beach has become a popular spot over the past couple of years as the South Inlet section of the Boardwalk grew desolate after casino closings at Showboat and Revel left it mostly dark in 2014. Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort announced it will close in October. The Showboat has since reopened as a hotel without a casino, but the Boardwalk will have no casino north of Resorts Casino Hotel if the Taj Mahal closes.
Along the beach block of Rhode Island Avenue, cars are parked bumper to bumper for free parking.
“Over the last two years, we have seen a 50 percent increase in the amount of people that have been using the beach down there,” said Steve Downey, head of the city’s beach patrol.
But a big test to the future popularity of this beach will come soon: the free parking.
Over the next couple of months, new parking meters will be installed along beach blocks as the city looks to increase its revenues and fend off a potential state takeover.
In May, the City Council awarded a contract to B&B Parking to run the city’s parking operation
While being disappointed about the installation of parking meters, Sheridan said he understands why it is being done.
“That is one of the reasons the city is in the situation that it is in,” Sheridan said. “I’m going to miss the free parking but they need to do this.”
But there’s more to this beach than free parking.
Mayor Don Guardian said he understands why people head to that end of the Boardwalk to relax.
“Metropolitan is my beach, but I also like the beaches at Rhode Island and Vermont,” Guardian said. “They are nice wide beaches that are getting busier now. I think that everyone has figured out there is free parking.”
For Kathy Hartman, a 60-year-old resident of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, the beaches at that end of the boardwalk offers a peaceful spot for her to enjoy the beach.
“The pier is around here and you can get shade from it,” Hartman said. “It’s quiet down here.”
James Smith, a 26-year-old lifeguard for the city, has heard it five or six times this year.
“People have come up to me and said that this beach is their own little slice of heaven,” he said.