PhillyDeals: Shore parks mogul braces for rough ride

Morey's Surfside Pier in North Wildwood. Economy, weather, or sea, the bumps are many.
Morey's Surfside Pier in North Wildwood. Economy, weather, or sea, the bumps are many.
Posted: November 25, 2013

At Morey's Piers, the fried-food pungency has blown off; the million swimsuited, yelling water-park visitors and the 1,500 scrambling Asian, Slavic, and Pan-American summer staffers have gone home. A skeleton crew turns over the Ghost Ship cars at Mariner's Landing and probes the top joint of the Waltzer soar-and-plunge ride. In Wildwood, in November, at the edge of the cold Atlantic.

Upstairs, past a plastic section of his motel-developer father's blue four-lane water slide bolted to the ceiling, Will Morey is checking accounts.

If any man can control his environment, that man is Morey: His brother and his sons help run the business that has spread across four piers, plus interests in attractions elsewhere; he's an elected Cape May County freeholder, whose voice is heard at City Hall and the Chamber and the Improvement District and up in Trenton. Morey is also past chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade group that speaks for Walt Disney World and many more.

There's no real offseason. The Moreys face forces pressing from all sides. In his brightly painted office, "I see storm clouds," Will Morey says.

By water

Hurricane Sandy tracked toward Morey's Giant Wheel before bending north to smash Ocean County instead. Morey's scrubbed and strengthened, but still lost trade in June, when it rained 21 days.

Is the sea really rising? "We're concerned, yes. Since they haven't been dredging Hereford Inlet, the North Wildwood beach has stopped growing. We're now looking at putting bulkheads on the east," Morey says.

"Cape May County's a tough place. It's all wind-exposed," agrees Lawrence Cohen, Morey's agent at BCA Insurance Group, Northfield and Mount Laurel.

"Will Morey is a very sophisticated businessperson. He buys what he needs. Not everyone does. It's getting expensive," Cohen notes, with insurers demanding up to 5 percent of a property's value for catastrophic- risk coverage each year, up from 1 percent.

By land

Morey worries about the middle-income and working-family Shore homeowners the piers depend on to support growth: "Pre-2008, there was no limit" on Shore home purchases. That's over, Morey says.

It's not that lending has dried up. "We have good banks, like Crest Savings. We have 4 percent mortgages. And people still aren't buying."

It's the job market: "Folks can finance a week at the Shore. Get a thousand dollars for a vacation. But they aren't getting raises, so they can't buy more houses." Especially with Shore property taxes.

Doo-wop

What to do? Morey worries the Pacific Avenue renewal attempts spread too far. Business supports "maybe four blocks" of retail there. Maybe the rest should be remade as rentals, he says.

He's glad Wildwood never got the casino that some wanted. "Atlantic City rose and fell with casinos. Atlantic City had its shot for 20 years. But all the facilities looked inward," hoping for profit despite city poverty. Morey knows his piers depend on the town.

Going global

Why does Morey's import foreigners for summer jobs? "We'd rather not have to," Morey says. But, he pleads, "it's a real cultural exchange. We get kids from 20 countries kicking the soccer ball around at night. It's powerful."

Morey is in and of Wildwood: He's been careful to grow by stages, "not changing who we are." But he also likes being part of something larger: "As chair of the association, I followed a German. A Filipino is next." Real growth is in Asia, he marvels: "They build amusement parks as housing amenities there. Like golf courses in the U.S."


JoeD@phillynews.com

215-854-5194

@PhillyJoeD

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