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‘Historic Grand Hotel’ in Cape May’s Future?

An artist’s rendering of a seven-story

By Vince Conti

CAPE MAY – Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eustace Mita, of Icona Resorts, appeared before Cape May City Council Oct. 5 with plans for a seven-story, 168-room hotel in the tradition of the historic grand hotels of the city’s past. 
Mita called the project a personal dream of his. He placed an estimated $100 million price tag on completion of the structure, saying it would take Icona seven years to break even from such a large investment.
Mayor Zack Mullock told the assembled public that the presentation was not the formal application to the city for approval of the plan. Mita will have to travel the well-trod route through the Planning Board, Zoning Board and Historic Preservation Committee before potentially gaining approval.   
Mita described the proposed structure as a “new hotel, with new amenities built to look like a 100-year-old grand hall hotel.” 
He said he was trying to capture the “simple, timeless, casual elegance” of the great hotels of the past. 
The structure will use classic design techniques with brass railings, a two-story-high porch, and center lobby with spiral staircases. He said most rooms would have balconies. Mita also envisioned porch dining on the second floor.
The first two floors would each have high ceilings, at 15 feet, with room floors above, at 10 feet. Given required flood elevation and adding seven stories and a rooftop pool on the eighth floor, the proposed hotel will be tall and in need of a height variance from the city.
Mita said that hotel rooms are essential for the city and county’s tourism economy. He added that Cape May lost 30% of the hotel rooms it possessed in 2000, most of them to conversion to condominiums.
There was an effort to head off complaints about parking, the most frequent criticism of development in the city. The proposed hotel calls for 260 parking spaces, a parking-to-room ratio that Mita said would be the highest in the county. The indoor parking would not be visible from the street.
The plan also calls for retail shops on the ground floor, along with restaurants and cafes on both floors one and two.
Mita said he tried to buy the historic Beach Theatre in the past, but the owners, Frank Theaters, were not warm to the idea. The proposed structure would be across from Convention Hall, a $10 million building completed and opened in 2012. 
Icona already has a hotel resort in Cape May, along with hotels in Avalon and Diamond Beach. Mita stressed that when Icona took over the properties in those locations, customer satisfaction moved from the bottom of rating lists to number one. 
“Once we hit number one, we have never lost that position,” Mita said.
No councilmembers asked questions during the presentation. There was a clear need to postpone judgment until formal plans are submitted and applications hearings held.
For Mita, his planned structure represents a “walk back in time,” but so large a building will likely have its critics.Mita expects to submit his application soon and begin the approval process in early 2022.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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