After reviewing some of the top stories in 2019, the Downbeach area is focusing on the future for peace and prosperity.
2019 ended in political chaos as Congressman Jeff Van Drew (D-2nd) switched to the Republican Party after pledging his “undying support” to President Donald J. Trump and refusing to vote for his impeachment.
That raised the ire of Democrats who voted for VanDrew and prompted Longport resident Brigid Callahan Harrison and Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett of Egg Harbor
Township to announce their candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 primary. Also, West Cape May Commissioner John Francis is seeking the Democratic nomination. Amy Kennedy of Brigantine is also exploring her options to run in the Democratic primary.
Van Drew already faces challenges in the primary as three others are vying for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Legislative District, including Brian Fitzherbert, Bob Patterson and David Richter.
The 2020 local election season gains focus in the New Year as two Downbeach communities under the commission form of government will hold non-partisan elections. Ventnor’s incumbent commissioners Beth Holtzman, Lance Landgraf and Tim Kriebel have announced they wish to hold onto their seats for another four years. So far, no one has stepped forward to challenge the Imagine Ventnor team, but it’s still early and we expect they will be challenged. Ventnor’s election will be held in May, while Longport’s non-partisan election will be held in November for the first time.
“We took advantage of NJ legislation that provided non-partisan elections be held in November as a cost-saving measure,” Mayor Nicholas Russo said. “The passage of an ordinance in 2016 added six months to our existing term.”
Incumbents Russo and Commissioners Dan Lawler and Jim Leeds have until summer to decide if they will run again.
Up-and-coming Ventnor has the most to look forward to in 2020, Mayor Beth Holtzman said.
“We are hoping the Imagine Ventnor team will keep Ventnor as a prosperous place to invest for business, builders and homeowners,” she said.
The city will be completing construction of Fire Station No. 2 on Wellington Avenue in the Heights section of the city. The new building, estimated to cost $3.17 million, is constructed of concrete panels manufactured in Millville. It will be completed by spring and fit it with the historic architecture located throughout the city. The new building will comply with the latest FEMA regulations for critical infrastructure.
The city will also complete the North Beach streetscape project, which was delayed when contractors discovered curbs and gutters below the surface of the roadway. The city will move forward with installation of rest rooms and a snack stand on the Ventnor City Pier and make major improvements to Lifeguard Headquarters.
Residents and visitors are looking forward to a repeat of the highly successful Downbeach Seafood Festival at Ski Beach Park. By the time the summer season ends, Ski Beach could see major improvements, another city project planned for 2020.
But it’s the opening of two new commercial establishments that the community is eagerly anticipating.
Santucci’s Original Square Pizza restaurant and the opening of the old Ventnor Twin theater and restaurant, which both obtained retail consumption liquor licenses – two of the three available in Ventnor – are planning to open before summer. Residents and visitors are literally chomping at the bit to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with their meal.
Bret DeNafo of the soon-to-open “Ventnor Square Theater” said if there are no further delays, the theater and bar and restaurant on the second floor will open by April.
DeNafo and his partners purchased the historic theater building, which unexpectedly required installation of steel beams to shore up the building.
“The structural work killed us,” he said. “It set us back nearly a year. But we are now all closed in, except for the doors, and the interior spaces are drywalled and ready to go. We will be installing the stadium seating soon.”
He said the theater will be “just like the Tilton Square Theater that we opened in Northfield, except it will have a restaurant,” he said.
The theater and restaurant will open simultaneously, he said.
“We will definitely be open for the 2020 summer season,” he said.
Alicia Santucci, her parents Frank and Alice Santucci, and husband Blake Barabuscio are “on track” to open in March, she said.
“We are about 80% done and will be ordering equipment this week,” Santucci said.
She said the family spent the holidays in Ventnor to get things moving for spring.
The restaurant will have a game room for children on the first floor, seating for 200, three bars – two on the rooftop deck and one inside – and will be open for brunch, lunch and dinner all summer long.
“It will be the largest Santucci’s ever,” she said.
The restaurant is currently taking applications for various management, bartender and server positions.
“We will employ between 60-100 full-time employees,” she said.
In Margate, it’s the back-bay area that is garnering the most attention. Officials said there is nothing more important than tackling the flooding issue. The city will complete construction of the last remaining portion of bulkhead along Amherst Avenue. The city will look to beautify the bulkhead with a promenade after the summer season – a project that will likely not be completed until spring of 2021.
The city will continue its efforts to obtain NJ Dept. of Transportation and DEP approvals to dredge the back bay to improve conditions for the marine industry and recreational fishers.
The city will develop a restriping plan for Atlantic Avenue, which the city hopes will make it safer for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Another planned project is reconfiguration of the intersection of Washington and Ventnor avenues in front of Historic City Hall. The city plans bump-outs with seating to create a center-of-place for tourists and residents.
Also, the Margate Boardwalk Committee will continue its effort to get a border-to-border boardwalk built along the recently constructed sand dune. The committee, headed by lifelong resident Glenn Klotz, is mounting a public initiative to get a question on the ballot to determine if the community supports building “A Boardwalk for the 21st Century,” which the group estimates will cost about $24 million.
A big decision is on the table in Longport as city officials decide if it should spend millions of dollars improving Borough Hall or demolish it and build a new municipal complex. Officials are starting the New Year by visiting recently completed municipal buildings in other NJ shore towns, including Sea Isle City in Cape May County and Beach Haven on Long Beach Island in Ocean County, to determine how they tackled the issue.
The borough is also planning renovations to its recreational area, including the possibility of building pickleball courts at the 33rd Avenue recreational complex.
The borough will approve a contract at its Jan. 3, 2020 meeting to extend engineer Richard Carter’s contract for a year to allow him time to obtain approvals and develop plans to sink a new well and build a well house at the Public Works yard.
Russo also said the Longport Public Library recently conducted a survey of patrons, which will allow the Library Board to chart a direction to implement “new and innovative programs that can be added to their already aggressive programming,” he said.
In the field of education, both Ventnor and Margate are looking to hire new district superintendents.