The former Merge nightclub in Seaside Heights was demolished in Oct. 2018 and has sat as an empty lot ever since, flanking the Boulevard and Franklin Avenue. Three years later, plans are coming together to redevelop the property, which operated as a nightclub for years under the owner of local businessman John Saddy.
Saddy sold his interest in the property to another local business owner, Robert Bennett, before it was demolished. Last week, a number of representatives for investors looking to develop the property met with members of the township council at a public work session meeting before regular business commenced to discuss the parcel’s future. Because the Merge property, as well as the parking lot next to it, are legally-designated areas in need of redevelopment, the township has latitude in requiring what types of structures may be built there. Because the property fronts the Boulevard business district – the street at the heart of redevelopment efforts borough-wide – officials say it would be ideal to continue a trend of mixed-used commercial and residential space on the plot.
“They’re proposing single-family homes with a lot that will be on Hamilton and Franklin, with the frontage as retail,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz.
The council met with engineer Brian Murphy, who has successfully designed other residential redevelopment projects in town.
“We asked them to come back, go to the planning board, and everyone seemed in agreement,” said Vaz. “The homes certainly look feasible and we’d like to take a look at the retail part since that’s something we’d like to see. I think everyone got into the same mode.”
The borough recently awarded its first of $1 million worth of state-funded grants to tear down aging and troubled structures in town so they can be replaced with buildings that fit into the redevelopment master plan. While the boardwalk district has flourished with a new beach club under construction at the south end and new zoning that largely sets aside the northern portion as a quieter, residential-oriented section, officials have looked to the Boulevard to help foster a thriving business community that eventually will support a larger year-round community and family-oriented visitors.
“The dream that I have is to walk on the Boulevard at night, see the lights shining – nice restaurants, nice stores, if someone wants to buy something nice to wear out – that kind of thing,” Vaz said.