Apparently, Rich Uncle Pennybags and the City of Brotherly Love didn’t do as much to revive Atlantic City from its 20th century decline as the Boss and the Big Apple did to Asbury Park.
While Monopoly and his iconic Baron of Thieves may have acquainted Atlantic City with board game players around the world, and Philadelphia is only an hour’s drive away, the Atlantic City real estate market, its popularity. among young people and those who like to have fun, and its overall economic development has lagged behind this other city further north on the New Jersey coast, Asbury Park, which has capitalized on its proximity to New York and its associations with Bruce Springsteen and the local music scene he was a part of.
So, on Tuesday, about three dozen Atlantic City officials and investors took a 64-way bus to Garden State Parkway to get a first-hand look at places and plans representative of Asbury’s return after his own years. from decay in the latter part of the 20th century to one of the state’s hottest real estate markets and most popular tourist destinations. The trip was sponsored by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, or CRDA, an Atlantic City-based state agency that promotes local development in a special area surrounding casinos.
“Since I have been at CRDA I have been talking about what has been done at Asbury Park,” said Matt Doherty, executive director of CRDA, in an interview. “And it was an opportunity for them not to read or hear about it, but to see it for themselves and walk the streets. And when you see it and walk the streets, you actually start to feel it. “
The bus arrived around 9:30 a.m. on Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park’s waterfront thoroughfare, past the Wonderbar, a concert hall that, like the Stone Pony just up the street, predates the city boom. from the past two decades but has survived and flourished underneath as a reminder of local heritage, including a replica of Tillie’s iconic face painted on the bar’s exterior.
Planned stops on the tour included Asbury Ocean Club Condominium Tower, Town Wide Boardwalk, Empress Hotel, Cookman Avenue in the historic downtown business and dining district, Carousel House and other places.
Minutes after arriving, Atlantic City 3rd Ward Councilor Kaleem Shabazz noticed a vacant lot one block from Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park’s main thoroughfare parallel to the beach, had been surrounded by a low fence and plantations. Regardless of the status of the lot, Shabazz said just locking it up in an orderly fashion with even a modest nod to the aesthetic made it seem like it was only a matter of time before. that something substantial does not appear there.
In contrast, he said, vacant lots in Atlantic City are generally difficult and unguarded areas that invite dismay or illicit activity. Shabazz, who chairs the council’s planning and economic development committee, said he would review local legislation in his town requiring something like what he saw in Asbury Park. “As long as we can make it cleaner and safer, we’re going to do it,” Shabazz said.
Other people who made the trip north included a pair of young developers, Ryan Goldfarb, 30, and John Errico, 35, of Liberty Hudson, who have carved out a niche for themselves by rehabilitating aging buildings specifically intended for be used as Air B&B apartments. Errico and Goldfarb now plan to go beyond that to develop specially designed Airbnb units.
Unlike Jersey City and other places that have discouraged Airbnb as a loud nuisance to apartment owners’ neighbors, Atlantic City has embraced short-term rentals to encourage precisely the kind of redevelopment and new construction that Liberty Hudson does it.
“In AC it’s now explicitly legal,” Errico said of Airbnb.
The two young developers are teaming up with veteran of the Asbury Park development landscape, Pat Fasano, who has refocused in recent years on Atlantic City.
With his black denim western shirt, three-day beard and intense tan, Fasano looks like the “cowboy” developer he likes to describe himself. On a rooftop terrace at The Asbury Hotel, one of the tour’s stops, Fasano dismissed the perception of Atlantic City as a poor and criminal town surrounding a swathe of gambling halls that were built to embrace neither the ocean on one side of them and the neighborhoods on the other.
Despite the perception, or even partly because of it, Fasano said Atlantic City could be “the last big opportunity on the Jersey Shore.”
“I always focus on the positive,” said Fasano, former owner of Wonder Bar and nearby bowling and concert hall ally Asbury Lanes, who has purchased, developed or remodeled countless properties in the city. “Some people say, ‘Oh, Atlantic City! Oh, this place! Drug addicts, prostitutes and garbage. And I don’t really see that. What I see is a beautiful walk, beautiful beaches, amazing infrastructure that I don’t have in Asbury Park, I don’t have parking. (In Atlantic City) I have parking lots. I have hotel rooms. I have so much amazing real estate with potential for development. It truly is the land of opportunity.
The Asbury Hotel has been remodeled from a former Salvation Army residence. The brick-built hotel two blocks from the beach has a bar and lounge in the retro lobby with shelves full of vinyls and tapes from the 60s, 70s and 80s that guests can play on their own. same.
The hotel was developed by iStar, the Manhattan-based real estate investment company appointed by Asbury Park City Council as the designated developer of the city’s waterfront redevelopment area. The company’s local portfolio also includes The Ocean Club, a gleaming 17-story condominium and hotel tower on Ocean Avenue with penthouses where a penthouse sold for $ 5 million, and the bowling alley and gym. revamped concert of Asbury Lanes, the reopening of which was serenaded by The Boss. himself.
Some of iStar’s plans have been controversial, including a members-only beachfront pool club approved by the local planning council in June, which some locals see as contrary to the spirit of inclusion. ‘Asbury Park. And the astronomical prices paid for Ocean Club condos and other new builds in recent years have pushed up real estate prices across a city where three-quarters of residents are renters whose wealth does not increase with rising prices. real estate values.
Local activists and some elected officials say the gentrification of Asbury Park has driven up rents and driven out some longtime residents. But iStar and others say the local boom has created construction and permanent jobs for residents, in addition to generating city income that helps pay for social services and other improvements.
In an example of the focus on the whole community, Asbury does not have a restaurant, a deliberate omission to encourage patrons to take advantage of the town’s many independent restaurants, which collectively constitute a local industry. key that attracts visitors, provides employment and income for the city, and keeps storefronts occupied and pays rent in buildings with apartments and offices above them.
Atlantic City mayor Marty Small was also at Asbury Park on Tuesday, where he shot a few balls at Asbury Lanes. Small and Shabazz have both vowed not to allow gentrification of Atlantic City to displace existing residents.
But they said it was possible to promote development while protecting longtime residents from displacement.
“I don’t think it’s either one or the other,” Shabazz said.
Brian Cheripka, iStar vice president in charge of its Asbury Park projects, addressed visitors to Atlantic City over lunch at one of the promenade’s sustainable restaurants, Langosta Lounge. A local troubadour, Stu Hoosten, has strummed “I’m On Fire” by Springsteen and other covers to give a taste of the city’s performances.
In an interview before addressing the group, Cheripka said residents, developers, local business owners, city officials, civic activists and others will need to listen and be open to feedback from others. And, he added, one cannot expect that no developer can turn a city’s fortunes around.
“I think meaningful development takes time. And we, working together, have to be patient, ”Cheripka said. “It’s not easy. People will say, ‘We don’t believe in this,’ ‘We don’t believe in that. We’re not always going to get along.
He said that Asbury Park’s proximity to New York – a city of 8.6 million people compared to Philadelphia’s 1.6 million – and with the more populous and wealthy northern region of New Jersey, doesn’t necessarily mean that Atlantic City could never attract the kind of traffic and investment. that Asbury Park has. (He said iStar himself remains focused on his unfinished development plans for Asbury Park and has not set his sights on AC)
As remote working normalizes thanks to technology and the coronavirus pandemic, Cheripka said the real estate mantra, “location, location, location,” will become less meaningful in terms of commuting or even commuting. blocks from the beach. And it can help close the gap in desirability and development between Atlantic City and Asbury Park.
“COVID has taught us one thing,” Cheripka said, “people are venturing further and further away from what we consider to be home.”