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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Crest Holds Meeting on NJ Avenue Improvements

Scott Taylor

By Shay Roddy

WILDWOOD CREST – A second stakeholder meeting was held Sept. 23 on the proposed New Jersey Avenue business district revamp, which would replace streets and sidewalks, install center islands, and include other updated features to stimulate reinvestment into Wildwood Crest’s largely dormant downtown. 

The project’s plans and benefits were presented to the public outside the Doo-Wop Drive-In, a new restaurant, on New Jersey Avenue.   

Before the 6:30 p.m. start time, all chairs, which were spaced for social distancing, were filled and more stood. Some expressed concerns about the project, including nearby neighbors or those who found the project to fail their cost-benefit analysis. Other’s expressed hope and interest in its potential.  

The revamp and beautification efforts would  occur between Heather and Wisteria roads and coincide with a scheduled county project to redo New Jersey Avenue, so the cost to the borough would be  less than at any other time.  

Because it’s a county road, the street and sewers will be replaced, but the borough has an opportunity to have it done to their specifications and then use some of their budget to put the bells and whistles on a new downtown.  

“I’m a giant fan of collaboration and working with people who have passion to do something greater and better. There’s a real opportunity here. When we pool our interests, when we pool our expertise, when we pool our finances, we can really do something that, I think, is special,” said Cape May County Freeholder Will Morey.  

Scott Taylor, vice president, Taylor Design Group, the firm designing the project, wouldn’t offer a cost estimate, but said improvements would include new lighting, trash cans and bike racks in the same theme.  

“Avalon spent just over $14 million to redo their downtown, and it took them less than 10 years to recoup that cost as a result of increased ratables that came as a result of the reconstruction of the businesses in the downtown,” Taylor said, adding the Crest’s cost would be much less than $14 million because of the smaller scale and shared cost with the county. 

Taylor Design Group was hired by Avalon for the successful Dune Drive renovation, in the early 2000s. Taylor referenced the Avalon project throughout the night, which has many of the same features, like center islands, benches, bike racks, stamped sidewalks, etc. that are being proposed by the Crest.  

Mayor Don Cabrera pointed out that many residents and second homeowners leave the Crest with their money to have dinner in other towns, which is lost revenue that would make the town more valuable and enjoyable for everyone.   

“I would like Wildwood Crest to be as nice as the downtowns you see in Avalon, Stone Harbor and Cape May. That would drive property values. Let’s give our residents, our second homeowners and businesses an opportunity to have the same quality of life that they may have,” said Cabrera.  

Taylor added they are also losing tourist dollars from people who choose to stay in the Crest but eat or go out elsewhere.  

Cabrera also recognized that one of the draws those towns have isn’t just landscaping, it’s liquor. The mayor said one anchor business, which would be allowed to serve liquor, could help kickstart redevelopment. Commissioners have said the only way a liquor license would be allowed is if it were brought to the ballot on referendum and voted by residents. Because of the population, the town only qualifies for one restaurant license.  

Some Crest residents are opposed to the idea because the town has been without a bar or liquor store for so long.  

“For the last 80 years, the Crest has been ‘dry,’ so the idea of allowing a restaurant to serve alcohol, people just get overwhelmed with that. We all know to the north and south of us, even the west of us, everyone around us has a restaurant with an ability to do that, just not in the Crest,” Cabrera said. “If there’s going to be an opportunity, this is the opportunity.”  

Another potential obstacle is Wildwood Linen, a commercial linen service operating out of a warehouse in the middle of the business district. Cabrera said the borough had discussions with the company about relocating.  

“It is an inconvenience, and it is a nuisance, to some degree, to everybody. At the end of the day, if they could find the right location without having to spend all kinds of money to relocate, I think it’s in their best interest, as well, to relocate. I’ve gotten that impression from them in our conversations,” Cabrera said, adding he wouldn’t consider paying Wildwood Linen to relocate, but would use any resource to try to make it make sense for them to move.  

He added that the project could go on around them.  

Borough officials said there will be at least one more stakeholder meeting before a final decision is made on whether to advance the project. The county hopes to begin the project in fall 2022, so the borough needs to decide on its part soon. 

To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com. 

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