OCEAN CITY – Eustace Mita, owner and chief executive officer of Icona Resorts, made a presentation to Ocean City Council Feb. 23, in which he spoke of his desire to build a grand hotel in the style that was popular at the turn of the 20th century.
For those who remember his presentation of a similar plan in Cape May in 2022, there were a number of places where the two proposals resembled each other closely.
Both proposals presented conceptual designs that show a grand building of a size that dwarfs any rival in either city.
Both would use the first floor for high-end retail. Both would require an investment in the $150 million to $175 million range, with 10 years at least before the property could become profitable.
Both presented buildings of varying heights, with the proposal for Ocean City being a hotel that reaches its high point of eight stories in the center of the structure, then “cascading” down to a shorter structure, as it approaches a residential area on one side and an amusement park on the other.
In each city, Mita pointed to the loss of hotel space that is critical to the hospitality driven economy. He said the erosion of hotel rooms in Ocean City, a result of what he termed “condomization” of previous hotel space, is a danger to an economy built on tourism.
Mita said that Ocean City had about 3,000 hotel rooms in 2000. Two decades later, he estimated the city had about 750 rooms.
“We are eating our own livelihood,” Mita said more than once.
Mita walked the council through the other hotels in the Icona brand: Icona Diamond Beach, his first hotel property in Cape May County, Icona Avalon, Icona Cape May and others. His purpose was to show the dedication of the Icona brand to quality in both structure and customer experience. He said three of his eight hotels are now in the top-75-rated properties on TripAdvisor in the nation.
Mita described his attachment to Ocean City, where his family has resided for over a century. He spoke of meeting his wife in Ocean City and raising five children there.
“This is my hometown,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart.”
His desire to build a landmark structure at the heart of his brand was on display in both Cape May and Ocean City. Saying that Ocean City has not had a new hotel built for 50 years, Mita said he had the best possible site in mind for such a venture.
Mita is proposing to buy the city-owned land adjacent to Mayor Jay Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, which Mita invested in when the banks called millions of dollars in loans at the Pier. The property next to the amusement park is bordered by Fifth and Sixth streets, the northern end of the boardwalk and the civic center parking lot behind it.
Now, Mita is before the city with his proposal for a grand hotel, noting that the property today creates no revenue for the city. He said that if the proposal went forward, Icona would become the highest taxpayer in Ocean City. The project, in Mita’s concept, would bring a needed rejuvenation to that end of the city’s boardwalk.
This was not Mita’s first attempt to bring his hotel brand to Ocean City. He had attempted to purchase a historic bank structure in the city for use as a boutique hotel but lost out to a Philadelphia investor who paid $6.6. million for the property in bankruptcy court.
When Mita had brought his $150 million grand hotel proposal to Cape May last year, he sought to have the city designate the Beach Avenue site he had already purchased as an area in need of redevelopment. That designation, Mita said at the time, would cut two years off the time for developing the property.
Cape May City Council made a clear reply that it was not interested in a redevelopment zone approach. Mita’s August Convention Center presentation to Cape May residents was the last public discussion of the Cape May hotel proposal. No application has subsequently come before the Planning Board.
When asked after Mita’s Ocean City presentation if Mita had made any attempts to move on developing the Beach Avenue site in Cape May, Mayor Zack Mullock said, “We haven’t heard anything from him.”
Mita ended his discussion in Ocean City, saying that the proposal was at the starting point.
“We would very much like to bring it to the finish line,” he added.
Thoughts? Questions? Contact the author, Vince Conti, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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