About a decade ago, a local nightclub owner had a dream to build a large-scale entertainment complex on the Boulevard in Seaside Heights, consisting of pools, lodging, nightclubs and restaurants.
After the 2008 recession, the plan was largely abandoned, as well as the outline of the structure itself, complete with empty concrete for pools on the first floor. For years, four stories of steel framing has been rusting away, prompting complaints from residents and, earlier this year, forcing the borough to take the first step toward a potential condemnation.
Its owner, Vincent Craparotta, in recent weeks has responded by taking the first steps of redeveloping the building – in what is expected to be a slightly scaled-down version of the original concept. Some of the steel has already been removed, and work trucks remain parked in another undeveloped plot next to the building.
“He came to us about two months ago, and he had a vision and a rough drawing,” Mayor Anthony Vaz said of Craparotta, who also owns Hemingway’s restaurant and nightclub and has been a property owner in town for decades. “He told us he would start taking down the steel.”
While plans have yet to be formally submitted to the borough’s planning board for a hearing, Vaz said the initial drawing showed nine bars, a pool area and a stage. That has elicited some concern from borough officials, who have been putting an immense emphasis in recent years on transforming from a town known for its partying and clubs to a family-oriented resort.
“We don’t have a problem with music, and we don’t have a problem with a stage, but we want to see something more,” said Vaz.
The mayor and others believe the project should stick closer to the borough’s master plan, which calls for restaurant space on the Boulevard. They also want guarantees that the project will be financially viable and completed by a specific date.
“What I want to see is a restaurant – it doesn’t have to be gigantic – and I want to know the project will be completed in a certain time frame,” Vaz said.
Craparotta could not be reached this week for comment.
Vaz said some sketches of what may be proposed picture a two-story structure instead of the four stories that were originally proposed. The project is also likely to be completed in phases, though the borough will mandate that any portions fronting the Boulevard be completed first.
The structure has been allowed to stand uncompleted for so long due to legislation passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis which extended permits for construction projects that may have been affected by the recession. The program was further extended in the wake of Superstorm Sandy’s destruction in 2012.
Earlier this year, the plot of land on which the structure sits – as well as the former Merge nightclub a block away on Franklin Avenue – were declared areas in need of redevelopment by the town. That designation allows the borough to require owners to present a redevelopment plan, or risk having their property being taken by eminent domain. Seaside Heights has hired a redevelopment consulting firm to plan a revival of the Boulevard business district and attract investors.