SEA ISLE CITY — The city’s entrance is undergoing a more than $14 million makeover to create a public corridor from the bay to the ocean.

Construction crews are building a new boathouse on the marina next to the city’s 2-year-old amusement park, installing a new playground and basketball courts on JFK Boulevard and erecting a pavilion and band shell at Excursion Park on the city’s Promenade overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s going to improve our wow factor,” City Council President Mary Tighe said. “I think it’s going to be wonderful. Already people coming into town are excited about what they’re seeing, and it’s not even completed yet.”

Many towns are postponing or cutting back on capital projects this year because of the economy and concern over tax increases. But Sea Isle, with an annual budget of $23.2 million, is bonding its Beach to Bay Promenade over the next six years, a project that officials say makes sense.

Tighe said the city’s capital improvement project, which authorizes $3.9 million in funding for 2011 according to city budget figures, will not cause an increase in this year’s tax rate.

The cornerstone of the project is the new band shell designed by the Dennis Township firm Blane Steinman Architects. The blue-roofed stage will host plays, concerts and movies for an audience spread out across a grassy lawn.

“We wanted something that had implied imagery that you were at the shore,” architect Blane Steinman said.

The band shell features book-end towers that suggest lighthouses and signs that will complement the city’s marina district called Fish Alley, he said. It overlooks a new pavilion on the Promenade and a round courtyard featuring the face of a compass.

“That’s going to be a central point,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said. “People can say, ‘Meet me at the compass.’”

The city plans to install a large sculpture there of the city mascot, Sara the Turtle. The sprawling public area also features Braca Plaza, named for the city’s Braca family, which has owned businesses on the island for a century. And workers are putting in new landscaping at the foot of the Sea Isle City Bridge.

Tighe said the goal was to make this corridor inviting for families to stroll from either the marina or Gillian’s Funland amusement park through the city’s business district to the Promenade.

“We wanted the bay to be one anchor and the Promenade to be the other,” Tighe said.

Cape May County will repave JFK Boulevard next year and install wider sidewalks to make the transition complete, Tighe said.

The new boathouse will have room for the harbor master and offices for the city’s recreation department, Desiderio said. The city already finished rebuilding the marina’s public boat ramp.

The corridor is one large construction site now. Work was taking place simultaneously on the band shell, the pavilion and the playground this week to get everything ready for summer.

“Two weeks ago we had more construction cranes in Sea Isle City than Atlantic City has,” Desiderio said.

The city posted a schedule of public performances, including talent contests called Sea Isle’s Got Talent every Friday night. Saturday concerts will be held at the band shell, as well as free movies and other entertainment throughout the summer.

“Right now there are people giving you good deals and good prices,” Desiderio said. “We felt these projects were reinvesting in our community. It helps homeowners and businesses. We’re going to reap the benefits in property values.”

Council approved the projects unanimously.

Business owners said they are excited about the changes.

“I think it’s looking pretty good,” said Cathy Kerrigan, a clerk at Dalrymple’s Hallmark. “It will be absolutely beautiful when it’s finished.”

Jay Gillian, owner of Gillian’s Funland, endorsed the public projects. But as mayor of Ocean City, he said he is loyal to his hometown first.

“I want everyone to come to Ocean City first,” he said. “Everything Sea Isle has been doing is trying to attract families and start new traditions. I think it’s great.”

Contact Michael Miller:

609-463-6712

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