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Members of the American Legion Riders, the Red Knights and other New Jersey motorcycle clubs arrive at Ventnor Plaza in September for the annual Wounded Warrior parade through the Downbeach towns.

VENTNOR — Exterior upgrades and a push to bring in new businesses are in the works for Ventnor Plaza, but the nationwide decrease in retail stores is not lost on the shopping center.

Last week, the City Commission was presented with a draft of the Ventnor Plaza Redevelopment Plan, which lays out goals and initiatives to “revitalize, replace and/or redevelop” the Wellington Avenue plaza, according to the report. A public hearing and board vote on the plan are set for Nov. 14.

Nick Talvacchia, a land-use lawyer, told commissioners the shopping center is 45% vacant. While the redevelopment plan proposes to bring in more businesses, he said, retail may not be the best avenue to take.

“Everybody knows the retail environment,” he said. “The retail environment and malls, in general, are not doing well. The market has changed dramatically, primarily through Amazon and internet sales.”

He said the city is in a unique situation, as is any barrier island, where businesses looking for new locations draw out circled parameters on a map to see the population density within that circle.

“And half of the circle in Ventnor is in the ocean,” he said. “That’s why many businesses have moved to the mainland.”

One current trend he has seen is shopping centers being transformed into self-storage facilities.

There is one perspective self-storage tenant, but he is looking into some national self-storage chains.

Another trend is government offices relocating to shopping centers, as is happening in plazas in Pleasantville and Middle Township.

Ralph Pugliano, an asset manager and principal for Lamar Companies, which owns Ventnor Plaza, told commissioners self-storage doesn’t have to be in a populated area, there just has to be a need for it.

While Ventnor sees a lot of seasonal residents, he believes a self-storage facility will be of use to the city.

“We’re certainly talking to other retailers,” Pugliano said. “We have a couple that I hope will come in the next couple of months.”

One interested tenant is Wawa, he said. The Wawa on Dorset and Calvert avenues closed in September 2017.

Others include Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Carvel Ice Cream.

“It’s no surprise to anyone that retail needs to be repurposed,” he said. “Ventnor (Plaza) is a very large center, and trying to find tenants of this size today … everybody is downsizing. We start seeing this all throughout the nation. I think a change or something filling the spaces helps bring some of these supporting small tenants in.”

Phase One of the redevelopment project includes elevating pavement so it’s safe from flooding, refreshing landscaping and upgrading a portion of the shopping center’s facade.

The plan has four to five phases, but Talvacchia isn’t sure they’ll all happen. It all depends on whether businesses come, he said.

“It’s not an easy sell,” he said. “Not because Ventnor is a bad place — Ventnor is a great place — but we don’t have what they call density of population. We don’t have a ton of people right here.”

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