MARGATE, N.J. — Downbeach business owners and real estate professionals are gearing up for a summer they hope will be better than last year, when dune construction and subsequent ponding of rainwater scared away visitors.
But this year likely will not be totally free of inconveniences. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is returning next month and plans to add five outfall pipes to correct an aging stormwater system that last summer led to water ponding behind the newly built dunes.
The work is expected to take a year to complete, but work will be suspended from June 20 to Labor Day, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Stephen Rochette told The Press of Atlantic City (http://bit.ly/2F8o5h8).
That’s a good sign for local businesses, who blamed problems with the dune project — and the resulting publicity — for hurting business.
“There’s no question the dunes had an impact on the bottom line, mostly because the media showed the worst of what was happening, and that kept people away,” Margate Business Association President Ed Berger said.
Rochette said five outfall pipes will be installed under the sand to take stormwater from the street ends to the ocean. The installation will start in the south end of Margate and proceed north. Outfalls will be located at Vendome, Nassau, Kenyon, Franklin and Douglas avenues.
The construction operation will be much more limited than the beachfill operations that took place last year, Rochette said.
Rochette, in an emailed response to questions about the project, said that “during the construction of the upland portion of the system behind the dunes, which runs along the bulkheads, it’s possible two consecutive street-end areas may be closed at a time.”
“People can expect to see trucks bringing in equipment through the winter and spring,” he said.
The Army Corps and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection met with Margate city engineers recently to coordinate the construction of the outfall system with catch basins the city is installing.
Margate engineer Ed Walberg told commissioners last week that in some cases, the city may have to lower the catch basin to meet the level of the pipe.
Berger said in a telephone interview the association isn’t planning anything specific to rebound from last year’s losses, as members feel the regular summer lineup of events and activities will be enough to convince people to come back.
“We are planning no dirigibles or banner planes over Philly,” he said. “We feel confident our beaches will be in good shape next summer, and that’s the main reason people come here.”
The annual Beachstock festival is planned for the weekend before Memorial Day, and Thrilling Thursdays will be the catalyst for visitors to extend their weekend getaways, Berger said.
Paul Van DeRijn, of Jack and Jill Ice Cream of Egg Harbor Township, had contracts last summer to sell ice cream on the beach in Margate and Longport.
He said he lost at least half of his usual revenue due to the dune project, which he said “made it less palatable for people to go to the beach.”
Last Thursday, the Margate Board of Commissioners accepted Van DeRijn’s $54,000 bid to sell ice cream on the beach from May 1 through Oct. 1. Van DeRijn was the highest of two bidders, bidding $39,000 less than he paid for the contract last year.
He declined a one-year extension with a 5 percent increase on his $36,300 contract with Longport, an option that was written into his 2016 contract. The commissioners said they would discuss putting the contract out to bid for the 2018 season.
Van DeRijn said if the in-stallation of a stormwater drainage system to fix the ponding isn’t finished by summer, people will likely migrate to other shore towns, such as Ocean City, to go to the beach.
Van DeRijn does not have a contract to sell ice cream on the beach in Ocean City, but he supplies vendors there.
“The city has to be smart and can’t give away their bread and butter. With a $39,000 decrease in revenue, something in the city won’t get done,” he said.
“When they congratulated me for winning the bid, I told them I was sorry I couldn’t bid higher. It’s just that the revenue is not there.”
Van DeRijn said he is hopeful the economy is on the upswing and that this summer will be better.
Angela Besch, of Avalar Atlantic Properties, located in the Margate Towers beachfront condominium complex, said some potential renters shied away because of the dune project, and several buyers wrangled out of their sales contracts.
“People were unsure of their views, and some didn’t want to buy last summer because of the noise generated by the project,” Besch said. “They said they would rather wait until next summer.”
Besch, who is 2nd vice president for the Atlantic City and County Board of Realtors, said she will be reaching out to buyers and sellers through social media and emails.
Rental records provided by Besch from the Multiple Listing Service show there were 145 rentals in Ventnor and Margate in 2017, one more than in 2016. However, not all rentals are arranged by real estate agents, and not all are recorded in the MLS data.
In Ventnor, single-family home sales were up 22 percent over 2016, and the average sale price rose about 2 percent, to $368,754. Condo sales were also up, but the average price for a condo in Ventnor last year dropped 6 percent, to $182,813.
In Margate, single-family home sales were up 6 percent, but the average price was 1 percent less than the previous year, at $710,892. Condo sales dropped 5 percent, but the average price rose 17 percent, to $331,312.
Single-family home sales dropped about 15 percent in Longport, but the average sale price rose 14 percent, to $1,720,352. Eleven condos were sold in 2016 compared with 12 in 2017, with the average sale price rising more than 60 percent, to $563,964.
The sale of beach badges dropped in Longport and Margate, while sales in Ventnor increased.
Longport Chief Financial Officer Jenna Kelly said the drop from $217,390 in 2016 to $214,292 last summer could be attributed to Longport’s reciprocal agreement to accept beach tags from Margate, where tags cost less.
Ventnor CFO Toro Aboderin said tag sale proceeds were up nearly $12,000 over 2016, with a total revenue generated of $273,107.
Aboderin credited the increase with the city’s new policy of checking for beach tags at beach entrances, and rotating those checkpoints.
“Most importantly, we have supervisors whose only job is focused on the checkers, and we also had more checkers on the beach making sure that everyone was in compliance,” she said.
The negative publicity about the dunes could have caused a drop in beach tag revenue in Margate.
CFO Lisa McLaughlin said total revenue for 2017 was $325,345, down from $337,115 the year before.
Business owners expressed concern that the new drainage system being installed on the beach might ruin summer 2018 as well.
Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com