Locals love Gardner’s Basin, a 22 acre waterfront park at the corner of Absecon Inlet and Clam Creek in Atlantic City. The views and attractions make that a perfect place to relax and recover with the help of nature.
Visitors don’t encounter Gardner’s Basin on the way to the casinos or other resort destinations, so to them it’s a hidden gem.
We’re glad to see that this year, New Jersey and Atlantic City will give that gem the polish it has long deserved. A package of three grants will renovate the park and its Atlantic City Aquarium, starting as soon as the fall.
Such a back bay waterfront parcel inspires ideas of grand and lucrative development, but in the past few years clarity has returned about the substantial roadblocks to any commercial use of the land.
Since the city purchased the property in the 1970s with state and federal open space funding, use of it is limited to mostly natural recreation. A few years ago even 10 temporary, tiny and seasonal craft shops were evicted for exceeding the open-space restrictions.
Just as well, for now anyway. Atlantic City has great oceanfront open space but few parks elsewhere, and this one provides an ideal setting for a couple of restaurants, outdoor concerts, festivals and a marina.
As part of Atlantic City’s reinvention, Gardner’s Basin will serve another important purpose — adding an important civic amenity to the reviving Inlet section with its obvious oceanfront residential and commercial potential.
As Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver aptly put it in announcing the project, “Gardner’s Basin and the Atlantic City Aquarium … provide tourism options beyond the casinos and the beaches, they offer an authentic sense of place, and they can be a catalyst to attract new residents, many of whom want access to parks, nature and recreation.”
The park’s importance and benefit to the nearby Inlet neighborhood is increasing substantially thanks to a $50 million rebuilding of the Boardwalk along Absecon Inlet. For the first time the city’s iconic seaside stroll will connect directly with Gardner’s Basin.
State and city officials put together funding for the $3.6 million renovation that spares the stressed municipal budget.
The park’s Green Acres heritage is paying off with a $1 million grant from that Department of Environmental Protection program. That will cover upgrading parking, restrooms and lighting, and adding WiFi and even electric vehicle charging stations.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority will provide $1.6 million, and another $1 million in disaster recovery funds will come from a state-administered Community Development Block Grant.
The latter funding, part of federal aid following Hurricane Sandy, will cover repairing a section of bulkhead that is collapsing into the water and dredging the basin’s marina to improve storm-water drainage.
The 20-year-old aquarium will get its first major renovations, including a new roof, electrical and HVAC improvements, window replacements, flooring, and exhibit and gift shop upgrades.
Coronavirus restrictions make more precious the kind of relief Gardner’s Basin provides.
The park remains open if daydreaming about its better future isn’t enough (although the aquarium is closed and only takeout is available from one of the restaurants). Maintaining social distancing when there will help it stay open during the state emergency.