Wildwood seeks to join beach-bar trend

Posted: February 09, 2014

WILDWOOD Over the last several years, Mayor Ernie Troiano says, the city has tried a variety of ways to raise money for the upkeep of its beaches, which, unlike those at most Jersey Shore resorts, are free.

It has tried concerts, and tournaments, and camping, and even horseback riding.

Now it is trying one more thing: a beach bar.

The city commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to accept a bid from a group of Philadelphia club and restaurant owners to operate a beach bar beginning this summer. The idea is part of the city's quest to create revenue from its famously large beaches, according to Troiano.

"People have to understand this is not like we're going to put a taproom on the beach," Troiano said. "There's going to be volleyball, and cabanas, and nice tables, and people can have something to eat. It's going to be like you see in South Beach [in Miami Beach] or other resorts, where people can enjoy the beach and have these additional amenities."

If Beach Buddy L.L.C. secures a permit from the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, it will pay the Cape May County town $55,000 the first year for the privilege of using a city-owned beachfront near the Wildwoods Convention Center for the bar. If the enterprise succeeds, by 2018 it will pay $88,099 for the annual permit.

Unlike regular liquor licenses. which are for operations on private property, are bought and sold privately, are limited by population caps in individual towns, and can cost more than $1 million, concessionaire permits are issued directly by the state for use on public land, according to Zach Hosseini, a spokesman for the ABC.

The concept in Wildwood will be similar to beach bars that began operating about 10 years ago in Atlantic City, though they are on private property there. Other beach bars are scattered among various Shore towns, including Sea Bright, Asbury Park, and Point Pleasant.

In Atlantic City last summer, nine such bars - mostly at casinos - offered the chance for patrons to grab a cold drink while dipping their toes in the sand. Most of the operations fold up in the winter and reappear around Memorial Day.

"For us, it's all about generating tax relief for our taxpayers," Troiano said. "This will be one more component to that."

Beach Buddy was selected over two other bidders.

JDDM, a partnership of two former Atlantic City casino executives, Joseph Domenico and Don Marrandino, was turned down, along with Keith Symonds of Ocean City, who operates the Varsity Inn restaurant there.

City officials said they liked Beach Buddy's plan because it promises a "family friendly" atmosphere, operating between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. and offering food and a volleyball area, besides bar service.

Troiano said he did not want a new nightclub on the beach because that could "unfairly" take business away from clubs along Pacific Avenue.

JDDM's proposal, which would have given the city a $30,000 flat fee to operate bar along with a 3 percent profit share if the enterprise produced more than $1 million, would have more heavily relied on a nightclub atmosphere operating well past midnight, according to a report by the city solicitor, Mary D'Arcy Bittner

Symonds' plan would have given the city $100,000 annually, but was insufficient in some key areas, Bittner wrote.

Beach Buddy partner Anthony Morrison of Philadelphia, who is currently employed with a company that plans VIP experiences, will manage the beach bar operation with along with Mark Marek, one of the principals in Beach Buddy, who owns and manages Rumor Nightclub and Soundgarden Hall, both in Philadelphia. The other partners are Christopher Herghelegiu, a mortgage broker from Ivyland, and Anthony Sembello of Egg Harbor Township, owner of Rogues Gallery in Philadelphia.

Like another novel Wildwood plan, artBOX at Morey's Piers, Beach Buddy will use converted shipping containers to create its beachfront saloon.

Whether a beach bar actually opens in Wildwood this summer will depend on whether Beach Buddy can secure a permit from the ABC, a process that can take eight to 12 weeks, officials said.


jurgo@phillynews.com

609-652-8382

@JacquelineUrgo

www.inquirer.com/downashore

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