The former Merge nightclub sits derelict and battered – an abandoned, crumbling shell of what was once a busy hub of flashing lights, loud music and flowing drinks. A For Sale sign hangs outside, but so far there have been no takers.
The borough of Seaside Heights has finally had enough with the structure, which it says is making it more difficult to redevelop the busy Boulevard business district with restaurants, retail stores, family-friendly miniature gold courses and more subdued, higher-end night spots. On Monday, the borough’s planning board formally declared the lot on which the former Merge club sits as an area in need of redevelopment. The borough council on Wednesday took the same step, finalizing a legal process that allows the town to force an owner to develop a blighted property, sell it to someone who will, or face condemnation. The order includes the parking lot next to the nightclub structure.
“The borough would have condemnation power to take that property for the purposes of redevelopment if that became necessary,” said Matt Jessup, an attorney with the high-powered land use law firm of McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, which the borough hired to represent its redevelopment interests.
“We concluded that that property met two criteria of the local redevelopment housing law,” said Keenan Hughes, a planner with Hoboken based Phillips, Preiss & Grygiel, a consulting firm hired by the borough that has worked on similar projects in Morristown, Hightstown, Montclair and even New York’s Roosevelt Island. “I think the more interesting discussion becomes what comes next. There are a few potential options”
Hughes said the borough should publicly seek developers interested in the plot, potentially gathering interest for a mixed-use development which meets the goal of transforming Seaside Heights into a more traditional Shore resort town while increasing its year-round population.
“This evening is the first step,” Hughes said at a borough council meeting Wednesday.
The property is owned by John Saddy, who also owns the Bamboo and Karma nightclubs. At one time, the plan was to combine the three clubs under one cover charge and offer different experiences at each – a plan which never panned out. Officials have said Saddy, who did not attend nor send a representative to the planning board and council hearings, does not appear to be in the position to redevelop the plot on his own.
“His prior realtor had actually sent the borough a letter, offering the property for sale to the borough through a sale,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz. “He’s aware of what we’re doing. He got notice of every step of the process.”
The redevelopment declaration, as Hughes said, is the first step in what could be a lengthy, but beneficial, process as the borough focuses on redeveloping its prime business district.
“We’re in a position through this process to come in a find a developer with a vision,” said Vaz.
The Boulevard, under the administration of Mayor Anthony Vaz, has been a priority from nearly the day he took office.
“We always look at the boardwalk, but the Boulevard is your mainstay,” said Councilman Richard Tompkins. “It keeps things going all year round. A lot of the old timers remember when the Boulevard was like a main street, and I hope we can get back to it.”