WILDWOOD — Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. would like Pacific Avenue to return to the days when businesses operated on every block, but for now, he welcomes new residential housing as much as any business.
The city Board of Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution that allows the municipality to collaborate with Cape May County on redevelopment efforts.
“Back in the day when I was a kid growing up (the 1950s and 1960s), every single building on Pacific Avenue was a business from Cresse Avenue all the way down to 26th (Avenue),” Troiano said. “Every one was open and operating.”
Small downtowns, such as Wildwood’s, entered a period of decline as people moved from the cities to the suburbs and the malls took over. Now, the malls are falling victim to online shopping, which once more presents towns like Wildwood with an opportunity, Troiano said.
“Small town USA is starting to creep back into the picture,” he said.
The plan is for residential housing to take over the space of vacant commercial businesses, Troiano said. The county will help with the costs of putting the program in place for the buying of properties.
“The county will buy the properties and put them up for sale for developers. The developer will come in and buy the property. The county will get their money, and the city will get new buildings,” Troiano said.
The numbers are not yet final, Freeholder Will Morey said, but the county expects to spend about $300,000 on administrative costs, with the potential of investing millions of dollars down the road.
A redevelopment committee will be established that includes county and city representatives. Troiano said he would sit on the committee.
The redevelopment agreement between the city and the county says a 2017 evaluation by the state Department of Community Affairs ranked Wildwood as the fifth most distressed city in the state behind Camden, Salem City in Salem County, Atlantic City and Bridgeton.
“The county has determined it is in the best interests of the citizens of Cape May County to establish a Municipal Redevelopment Program for the purpose of assisting with the redevelopment of blighted, abandoned or disadvantaged communities within the county,” the agreement states.
Wildwood was chosen as the pilot community by the county to assess the efficacy of the program, the agreement states. The county finds the redevelopment of Pacific Avenue to be an essential component of its efforts to attract businesses, employment opportunities, residents and revenue.
While the initiative will start in Wildwood, Morey does not expect it to end there. He said more towns will seek county help once the program gets underway.
According to a statement from the county, several municipalities have sought help with economic development, expressing frustration with a lack of expertise and access to capital.
The county will look to municipalities, including Wildwood, for help with tax incentives and changes to zoning rules to facilitate the program.