ATLANTIC CITY — John Murphy admittedly doesn’t know much about the food business. For the past six years, he has rented vacation homes to families around the border of Ventnor and Atlantic City.

But the 50-year-old former marketing director knows the area and is ready to learn. He’s opening a bar and restaurant called Ryfe at the site of a long-vacant, two-story brick building near Stockton University’s city campus. It was once a liquor store, and a gas station before that.

“Rife means full of life, energetic, bustling, that sort of thing,” Murphy said standing inside the Atlantic Avenue building.

It’s one of several new businesses in the works around the new Gateway Project, as interest in the Chelsea neighborhood among investors and developers swirls.

Murphy’s new restaurant and bar is replacing the former Sherlock’s Liquor and Pub, which closed a few years ago, and will give (of age) Stockton students a casual spot to drink in walking distance. He hopes to open it by July, but that hinges on securing a liquor license.

Two yellow construction permits were taped on a window of the recently repainted brick building Tuesday, and inside, an electrical company was turning the power back on.

At Thursday’s Zoning Board meeting, Murphy will seek a parking variance and permission to build a small cafe area. He also wants to build a space for outdoor eating on the roof of the building. More windows will be installed to brighten up the dimly lit main room.

According to property records, Murphy bought the property and its adjacent lot for $480,000 in September, a month after Stockton opened its 675,000-square-foot, $220 million campus a few blocks away.

He doesn’t expect students to keep his eatery afloat but says the extra foot traffic factored into his decision to buy.

“There’s not enough kids there for you to rely on them. ... You’ll be out of business,” he said. “But it will help.”

Optimism was high among residents, Realtors and officials ahead of Stockton’s opening that the southern portion of the resort could be revitalized with the university’s appearance.

Since then, several other small businesses have cropped up in Chelsea, including sub and pizza place Chico & Sons and yet-to-open ice cream-and-donut shop Drip n’ Scoop.

Still, many of the storefronts directly across from the school still appear vacant, with “For Rent” signs hung on windows.

Behind the scenes, Councilman Jesse Kurtz said there’s been interest.

Kurtz said the former New Life Tabernacle Pentecostal Church directly across from South Jersey Gas’ new headquarters is becoming a tea house. A large, plastic sheet was draped over the doors Wednesday.

And O’Grady’s, a closed bar across from the campus, has been for sale for over a year with a few potential buyers, Kurtz said.

“That place is still vacant, but there’s a lot of nibbles and rumors. ... Nothing concrete yet, though,” he said.

A transformation of the neighborhood won’t happen overnight, some say.

Oliver Cooke, assistant professor of economics at Stockton, warned in a review of Atlantic City’s economy published in February that the university would not instantly be a “magic bullet” for the resort.

In the coming five to 10 years, he said, about a dozen additional restaurants, bars, convenience stores and other retail could open in the area. Cooke made his predictions after studying the impact new colleges had on other U.S. cities, such as the University of California in Merced.

About 500 students are living in the dorm building, but Cooke said many will likely choose more convenient, on-campus dining options and few have significant disposable income.

As Stockton grows in Atlantic City, Cooke said its impact will be greater. The Atlantic City Development Corp. has said construction could begin as soon as the fall on a $62 million, 105-unit dormitory structure between Atlantic, South Hartford and South Providence avenues.

“Great hope has been placed on Stockton’s shoulders,” Cooke said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. ... Things will mushroom over several years.”

Contact: 609-272-7258 azoppo@pressofac.com Twitter @AvalonZoppo

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