It’s a landmark nobody wanted, and soon it will be remembered only in news clippings, old photos – and, of course, court documents.
The Seaside Heights borough council on Monday voted unanimously to appoint SSH Boulevard LLC, a consortium of investors which includes former Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, as redevelopers of the “steel structure” that has been the bane of larger redevelopment efforts in the central business district for more than a decade. After a five minute-long council meeting, officials went to the site of the hulking edifice between Hamilton and Webster avenues to hold a press conference before construction crews got to work dismantling the metal.
By 3 p.m. Monday, the center of the steel was already down with significant progress made on the southern portion. Crews were also beginning to tackle the northern portion, closer to Webster Avenue. Making quick work of the demolition job, the crew had amassed a large pile of rubble on the Hamilton Avenue side which will be carted away.
“It’s taken us three years of hard work and effort,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz. “Today is a very important day for us.”
On Aug. 4, the borough formally took ownership of the property following an eminent domain taking. The process began in 2018, when the borough declared the property to be an area in need of redevelopment. That vote kicked off a legal process under which the owner of the lot, Vincent Craparotta, had an opportunity to clean up the property and either complete a proposed nightclub and entertainment complex or design a new project. He presented ideas to the council, but never formally participated in the redevelopment process, which required confirmation of financing and a guarantee that a proposal would go forward if approved by the local planning board. After failing to meet deadlines, the council condemned the parcel this summer and sought bids for redevelopment. SSH Boulevard was confirmed as the redeveloper Monday and will reimburse the borough for the purchase of the property.
“When this structure was built, the owner had dynamic ideas,” Vaz recalled as he stood in front of it, excavators already running. “He was going to have a pool, hotel rooms, condos, nightlife. But setbacks and the recession of 2008 set him back.”
Craparotta, much to the chagrin of officials and neighbors, used state laws passed in the wake of the financial crisis and Superstorm Sandy to extend permit deadlines, preventing the borough from taking action to force the tear-down of the structure or take it by eminent domain. Once those policies expired, the council took action after there was no indication that a project could be financed and undertaken in the near-term.
SSH Boulevard, LLC is owned by Dan Matarese, Zachary Rich, former New Jersey Republican State Committee Chairman Doug Steinhardt and Joanne Gilmore, the wife of Ocean County political powerbroker George Gilmore, who received a pardon from former President Donald Trump in January after being convicted on tax-related charges.
Initial plans, according to the documents submitted previously to the borough, call for an eight and-a-half story building concrete-framed structure with hurricane-rated windows and site-specific features. The building will operate as a mixed-use retail and residential complex that will measure 255,000 square feet.
Officials expressed hope that the demolition of the steel structure, and the expected development of the new mixed-use complex, spur further redevelopment along the Boulevard business district. Vaz has said some previous parties looking to invest in the borough were nervous to do so with the decrepit building still standing.
Seaside Heights has declared the plot of land one block south, the site of the former Merge nightclub, as another area in need of redevelopment. The former Bamboo and Karma nightclub sites are also likely to become redevelopment projects since it is doubtful they can be revived as nightclubs. Both went bankrupt in 2019.