The clock has run out for the owner of the much-maligned “steel structure” in Seaside Heights that has drawn ire from residents for a decade after construction on a would-be nightlife complex was abandoned.
The borough council on Wednesday voted unanimously to seek letters of interest from outside developers who will take ownership of the plot of land – either after a forced sale or condemnation – and build a new property aimed at improving the Boulevard business district.
The owner of the property, Vincent Craparotta, conceded that “I don’t blame the town for proceeding,” but accused officials of drumming up interest from potential new owners before any condemnation cases were filed.
Craparotta, who also owns Hemingway’s Cafe, also told members of the council on Wednesday that he will move ahead with removing most of the remaining rusted steel from the site, except for a first-floor portion. Craparotta, like any other potential redeveloper, will have a chance to participate in the application process.
The borough sent letters to Craparotta months ago, asking him to disclose his financial status to see if he has the funds or ability to finance development at the site. The forms were never returned, leading officials to move forward with the formal process of soliciting interest from other parties.
“I do not agree with the form the town gave me about two months ago,” Craparotta told council members. “I would not sign a form like that.”
He also accused officials of having conversations with potential developers, though officials denied ever having done so.
“My problem is that people in the town have been talking to other developers who have been coming to me,” said Craparotta. “My attorney will find out who has been going out there and saying things about the project.”
Craparotta abruptly left the meeting after having his say, but officials flatly denied that they’ve solicited offers before passing an official resolution to do so on Wednesday.
“It’s never even been appraised,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz.
Before he left, Craparotta said he has considered opening a scaled-down version of the giant nightlife complex he once envisioned. He also considered residential condominium development, but said the length of time it would take to obtain state environmental approval dissuaded him from pursuing that idea.
“Would I sell it to a developer? Of course,” he said. “But they say, ‘Vin, why would I buy it from you when I could buy it from the town?’”
Borough officials have grown frustrated with a decade of delays, as the property has deteriorated and become an eyesore. The council and planning board both agreed to declare the area in need of redevelopment, forcing Craparotta to address the property or give it up. Earlier this year, he indicated that the nightclub plan would be revived, but beside the removal of a small portion of the steel, there has been no action taken. The form sent by the borough went unsigned.
“He’s got to show financials and a timeline,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz.
“He still can be part of this redevelopment,” the mayor continued. “He’s not out of the picture.”
The original vision for the site was a multi-floor entertainment complex with pools, nightclubs, restaurants and possibly lodging. The concrete carved out for the pools can still be seen beneath the steel beams. But the plan never got off the ground while the site was allowed to remain dormant due to laws passed after the recession and Superstorm Sandy that extended building permits that had been issued in the years prior. Those laws have since expired.
“I know the town’s going to do what they have to do, especially since the word has been out already,” Craparotta said.