VENTNOR – Seen as a major player in the revitalization of the city, theater owner Brett DeNafo will be finalizing the purchase of the long-neglected Ventnor Twin movie theater on Monday, but there’s much to do before it opens for business by late-spring 2019, he said.
Settlement of the commercial property on Ventnor Avenue in the North Beach section is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, Aug. 20 at his attorney’s office in Linwood, and DeNafo and his partners, Clint Bunting and Scot Kaufman, will be meeting city officials and the public at the theater at a 2 p.m. press conference to celebrate and share their plans.
DeNafo would not reveal the purchase price before heading to the settlement table but said his total investment would be about $3 million.
Although there have been challenges to overcome, “(Theater owner) Bruce Frank wants to see it sold,” DeNafo said. “I bought the theater in Stone Harbor from him as well.”
DeNafo and his partners turned the Harbor Theater into a magnet for the Stone Harbor business district, especially at night, he said.
“We hope to be open for business next summer. We got the Stone Harbor theater open in just four months,” he said. “We move fast. You might see demolition begin by Tuesday. We will go full speed ahead.”
He said an engineer has certified the structural integrity of the building, however some minor structural issues will be addressed right away.
“The building is not as bad as people think. The roof is solid and has not been leaking. Most of the water damage to the building is in the basement, which flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The building lost power and they never restored it. It has been without power since then,” he said.
The building will be brought down to its shell, but there are some features he would like to keep, such as the circa-1920s staircase, he said.
The project includes a theater and restaurant on the second floor. DeNafo may have to obtain a use variance to change the second-floor zoning from residential to commercial.
The property is located in a redevelopment zone. DeNafo said he will be meeting with city officials in the coming months to discuss some form of tax incentive, which could include a tax abatement or payment in lieu of taxes agreement. He also plans to bid on a liquor license the next time the city offers one, he said.
At the end of the day, DeNafo and his partners will own nearly the entire block. Domenico’s restaurant is not included in their purchase plans, but they will purchase the Sacco building next door to the theater property, which includes three parcels, he said.
“Settlement on that property will be in 60-90 days,” DeNafo said.
A smaller building next to the theater may be demolished to provide access to the parking lot at the rear of the property. Sack O’Subs will stay, he said.
DeNafo said he is pleased the city is applying for a streetscape grant to improve the look of the block, which, he said, could be the catalyst to redeveloping other storefronts in the neighborhood.
“We love the idea and will send a letter of support. That, coupled with our project, will really make that area of Ventnor a major attraction for all of Absecon Island, including Margate, Stockton University and visitors to Atlantic City,” he said.
DeNafo, who grew up in Ventnor, credited the mayor and commissioners for supporting his vision.
“When we met with Mayor Beth, we could see the city wanted to support us,” he said. “Ventnor’s got to make the turn-around or the city will get stale. We’re pleased the mayor and commissioners are willing to step up to the plate.”