Stone Harbor hopes new hotel sparks tourist boom

Chelsea Hengstler makes up the bed in a bay-view suite. Business people in Stone Harbor say the additional visitors drawn by the new hotel might make the town more of a destination resort.
Chelsea Hengstler makes up the bed in a bay-view suite. Business people in Stone Harbor say the additional visitors drawn by the new hotel might make the town more of a destination resort. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photograph)
Posted: June 18, 2013

STONE HARBOR, N.J. - In this well-manicured Cape May County beach town that has rarely been more than a mention in tourism guidebooks, a new multimillion-dollar hotel plunked in the middle of its quaint downtown will be making quite a splash this summer.

The place hasn't even opened yet - an official grand opening is scheduled for Thursday - but 31 couples have already booked their weddings at the Reeds at Shelter Haven.

And then there are the 37 guest rooms and suites with their creamy, dreamy blue-and-beige ambience, Frette linens, and views along one of the town's seven back-door harbors. The rooms, too, which start at $400 for a downtown view and rise to $1,200 for a water-view suite, are going fast. This in a borough where most of the summer population of 20,000 people, a meager number compared with other Jersey Shore resorts, stay in private homes or in the half-dozen 1960s- and 1970s-era motels scattered among the beach neighborhoods.

Businesses say they are looking forward to the additional visitors and broader demographic that could help make Stone Harbor more of a destination resort.

A preppy vibe pervades this beach town, founded in 1914 and marketed then to wealthy Philadelphians, where oceanfront McMansions snuggle alongside vine-covered 10-room "family cottages" passed from generation to generation. Boutiques sell Lilly Pulitzer, gold-plated lawn sprinklers, and designer birdseed. The borough has a Forbes Magazine ranking as one of the most expensive zip codes - the median price of houses here is more than $2.5 million - and Stone Harbor has been listed among the 100 richest towns in the United States.

Not quite eight months after Hurricane Sandy whipped through, Stone Harbor looks freshly scrubbed and ready for summer.

"There was a little bit of a tussle over which wedding would be the first one on August 24 . . . and now we're booked well into fall with weddings," said Julie Yeager, the Reeds' director of sales, noting that until recently, Stone Harbor wasn't exactly the first place brides, or anyone else, would have considered as a destination for a major event.

"If you came to Stone Harbor then, you knew the town was here . . . you were in kind of like an old boy's club," Yeager said as dozens of hotel employees and contractors worked last week to put the finishing touches on the luxury boutique hotel. "Now, it's really going to be a destination that so many new people will be discovering."

It will employ about 125 people in the summer and about half that year-round, including hotel general manager A. Cem Erenler, who has provided world-class service to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and the Rolling Stones at Four Seasons Hotels and Ian Schrager properties worldwide.

But whether the hotel will be an overnight success in this relatively quiet, two-square-mile town - there are only about 880 year-round residents - isn't up for debate, according to Mayor Suzanne Walters.

"I think people here are really hungry for this kind of facility and are welcoming it with open arms," Walters said. "People tell me they can't wait to get in."

A year ago, the corner at 96th and Third Streets, essentially the town's gateway near the foot of the bridge leading to Stone Harbor from the causeway, was a sandy lot that had been vacant for nearly 20 years. Plans are already in the works for additional rooms and a spa on the site.

Town fathers had fretted over what would be built there. "Whatever became of this property, our hope in Stone Harbor was that it would be an asset to the town," Walters said.

The property owners, John Sprandio and local investor Ed Breen, formed 100th Street L.L.C. and came up with the concept of a boutique hotel on the spot where two previous hostelries operated under the name Shelter Haven as far back as 1912.

"We want the Reeds to feel like it has always been here," said David Schultz of DAS Architects of Philadelphia. "It will be a landmark addition to Stone Harbor as a prominent gateway to the community and its waterfront."

It is at an important corner, literally at the epicenter of Stone Harbor's quaint shopping district, and it backs up to the Shelter Haven Basin.

The exterior and interior of the site use "authentic and traditional" materials found on turn-of-the-century shingle-style estates that once lined the New Jersey coast.

But outside, away from the hushed elegance of the new place, will be the true test of whether the Reeds will pass muster.

"We're actually thrilled with it coming to town because it really puts Stone Harbor on the map as a true destination resort. We see it as only helping our business," said Laurie Dridgeman, a manager for Northend Associates, which operates four motels in town: the Dunes, Seaward, Harbor Inn, and Colonial Lodge, which together have about 400 rooms.

"With every wedding, that's 200 or so people that'll need rooms beyond the rooms the Reeds offers. It's going to be great for our off-season business," Dridgeman said.

Longtime resident Marie Reed, 68, said she was at first worried the new hotel might change the small-town feel of Stone Harbor.

"But as it's materialized here . . . it's lovely. I think it's going to be a great addition, as a new go-to place even for locals for family gatherings and things like that. I can't wait to have dinner there," Reed said.


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382, jurgo@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo. Read the Jersey Shore blog, "Downashore," at philly.com/downashore.

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