WILDWOOD — Cape May County is working with the city on a plan to give visitors a better first impression at the beach resort’s main entrance.
Drivers who cross the George Redding Bridge arrive with little fanfare on a five-lane avenue dotted with businesses, condos and a few older homes. Besides some contemporary doo-wop architectural touches at the Wawa and TD Bank, there is nothing that makes Rio Grande Avenue any different from other busy roads on the island.
But the county has a plan to create a new gateway with streetscaping to give visitors a sense of arrival somewhere special, county Engineer Dale Foster said.
“We’ve finished with the conceptual plan, and now we’re getting into the engineering,” he said.
Rio Grande Avenue has seen a recent surge in private development interest, with a new miniature golf course, a craft brewery and the reopening of the Tom Cat Restaurant and Wildwood Mini-Golf.
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The Starlux Hotel, owned by the family behind Morey’s Piers, opened a new miniature golf course at the end of Rio Grande Avenue with public spaces to make that block more inviting to visitors.
Will Morey said the proposed improvements at the gateway will give more curb appeal to this important corner of Wildwood.
“I think that will make a big difference,” he said.
Slated for construction in late 2018, the project would raise the road surface on Rio Grande Avenue, which typically is the first to flood of all three entrances to the Wildwoods.
The entire neighborhood around Susquehanna Avenue is subject to tidal flooding. But the higher road and new rainwater pumps should help, Foster said.
The county also wants to widen the road, which now has four narrow lanes that lead to and from the beach.
“It’s going to move traffic quicker, lift the road out of the water and create some visual enhancements as you come into town,” Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said.
He envisions electronic billboards, signs or logos along the avenue to give visitors a sense of arrival.
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“It’s going to be a really sharp-looking entrance,” he said.
The county is working on the streetscape designs with the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. The authority commissioned the Wildwoods Beach Ball Plaza at the end of Rio Grande Avenue.
Wildwood Crest, too, is keen on seeing the gateway project come to fruition, Commissioner Don Cabrera said. People who come through Wildwood can take any of a half-dozen routes to get to their destination in Wildwood Crest. So a dedicated gateway for the borough is not practical.
But Cabrera said he sees extending this Wildwoods welcome beyond the island to the causeway where most visitors exit the Garden State Parkway at Exit 4. Putting a landscaped welcome sign in the divided, grassy median might make sense with similar improvements at the entrance to the island.
“We want people to get excited about coming here on vacation,” Cabrera said. “It’s a nice feeling when you come off the parkway to have that wow factor: I’m on vacation. We’re here. We’re going to have a good time.”