As the building boom in Seaside Heights has continued to pick up steam over the course of the last several years, one of the major changes many locals and visitors have noticed are the quickly-diminishing number of motels in the borough.
The departure of motels has drawn both positive and negative feedback. Many of the motels in town were kept in notoriously poor condition, were used as temporary public housing year-round – sometimes for convicted sex offenders – and have been the scenes of high-profile criminal activities. But not all of the borough’s motels drew troublemakers, and in better times, represented a simple and affordable place for families to stay “down the Shore” each summer. With property values rising and redevelopment efforts in full swing, however, many motel owners are finding it more profitable to sell their land than continue investing in aging buildings amidst tougher enforcement of quality-of-life issues.
Though discussions have been largely informal, borough council members this week for the first time discussed the potential redevelopment of a major motel property along Ocean Terrace, which could represent one of the physically largest projects in borough history along with the construction of new buildings that would increase the number of rooms at which visitors can spend the night.
“Everybody looked favorably on the idea because we know we need new, clean hotel rooms,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz.
The interest in building a new hotel in town comes from an investor from the Boston area, the mayor said. A rough outline of the proposal envisions a 180-room hotel at 200 Ocean Terrace, which is now the site of the Surfside Motel, which according to county property records was built in 1971 and encompasses a 24,000 square-foot parcel which consists of three lots.
The property is not currently listed for sale; it last changed ownership in 2020, records show.
“There is a developer from the Boston area who has done hotel projects and building projects, and he’s very interested in buying the motel, and other properties in that area, and putting up a new hotel,” said Vaz. “At this stage, it’s just a conversation, a discussion. There have been a few rough drawings and he wanted to see if there was interest, and there is.”
Vaz and members of the borough council have taken the issue of troubled motels head-on. In addition to forming a quality-of-life task force in a partnership with Toms River, the borough has condemned some properties – one of which went on to become a new-build affordable housing apartment complex for senior citizens – and utilized grant funding to pay for the demolition of others. They have also lobbied Ocean County to stop the practice of using motels on the barrier island as emergency housing, arguing that it leaves people on an island with little year-round employment and minimal transportation options in the absence of car ownership.
At the same time, officials have acknowledged that their goal in redevelopment has been to foster a strong sense of community with the hope of attracting more year-round residents and investors as well as family-oriented seasonal visitors. While several reputable motels remain open in town, one of the largest is for sale and others are beginning to show signs of their age.
“We need hotels or motels in town,” said Vaz. “We’re losing them, and let’s be realistic, some of them weren’t the best places for our visitors to stay. So we have a need there, and we see it as a positive that someone is interesting in filling that need.”
Vaz said the informal discussion about the Surfside Motel site, in addition to the estimate of 180 rooms, also included a banquet facility which could host weddings, corporate gatherings or civic events.
The idea came before the borough council during its work session meeting this week, which is open to the public but utilized as a less formal discussion-oriented platform where ideas can be proposed and brainstorming is encouraged. The council’s involvement would surround the possibility of declaring the motel property as a formal area in need of redevelopment, a designation that would allow the governing body to set development parameters specific to that property and provide an extra layer of oversight, including guarantees of financial solvency by a developer. The designation process includes a study by the borough’s planning board, and any formal proposals would require the approval of both the board and the borough council.
Vaz said there have not yet been any formal proposals submitted to the borough, and the would-be investor wanted to gauge the level of support in town for such a project before moving forward. While there are many details still yet to be filled-in, officials were supportive of the idea of expanding the town’s number of hotel rooms, while continuing to eliminate the quality-of-life issues that previously gave such properties a less-than-stellar reputation.