May 25, 2013

In Focus: Rebuilt Jersey shore hopes for no erosion in tourism

In the wake of remarkable recovery efforts, the area is open for business and ready for summer visitors.

By WAYNE PARRY The Associated Press

SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. - The boardwalks are back, and so are most of the beaches, even if some are a little thinner this year.

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Daryl Gottilla, left, and his wife, Denise, sit on storm-damaged Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., on May 10. “The houses took a beating, but I’m pleased with how the beach looks,” she said. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

The Associated Press

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Want to help? Then vacation at the Jersey shore, one mayor says.

The Associated Press

The smell of funnel cakes, french fries and pizza will mingle with the salt air, and the screech of seagulls will be heard, but so will the thwack of hammers repairing what can be fixed and the roar of bulldozers and backhoes tearing down what can't.

Welcome to Summer 2013 at the Jersey shore, the first since Superstorm Sandy pummeled the coast and upended hundreds of thousands of lives.

"The Jersey shore is open for the summer and ready to receive our customers," Gov. Chris Christie said last week at a ceremony reopening the newly rebuilt Lavallette boardwalk, three-quarters of which was destroyed by the storm. "This is going to be a really good week."

Christie cautioned that parts of the shore won't look as they did last summer, but predicted by next summer they should be back to normal.

Even in many of the places that suffered the most from Sandy, remarkable recovery and rebuilding efforts have been made to get them ready for the summer tourist season. Yet reminders of the storm's devastation are visible all around.

Denise Gottilla and her husband Daryl stuck their beach umbrella into the sand in Point Pleasant Beach earlier this month. To their right was a wood-shingled home that had been destroyed by the Sandy's storm surge. To their left was concrete rubble from a pool and patio from homes that also were badly damaged. And in front of them were large piles of sand that still needed to be smoothed down before beachgoers could arrive. But she was encouraged by what she saw.

"The houses took a beating, but I'm pleased with how the beach looks," she said. "It's not as bad as I thought it would be."

While Sandy damaged or destroyed many shore rentals, there are still plenty to be had, said Randy Sinor, past president of the Ocean County Board of Realtors, who works in Ship Bottom on Long Beach island.

"On LBI, we all have 95 percent or better of our pre-Sandy inventory ready for rental," he said. "We are open, we are ready, and we have prime weeks still available. It is not too late."

Countywide, rental stock ranges from about 65 percent of what was there before Sandy to 90 percent, depending on the town, he said. Demand has been about 75 percent of what it was at this time last year.

Not all of the Jersey shore was hurt by Sandy. Famous resort towns including Ocean City and the Wildwoods suffered minimal damage that was quickly repaired. Those areas are girding for a potential spike in visitors this summer as vacationers seeking thrill rides look elsewhere this year.

"Our hearts go out to the areas that were affected, but we have to get the message out that a good portion of the Jersey Shore will be open, and we hope vacationers will support New Jersey's tourism economy," said John Siciliano, head of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement Development Authority.

Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, where the Jet Star roller coaster plunged into the ocean, will have at least 18 rides open this summer including a pendulum ride defiantly named The Super Storm. (The Jet Star was dismantled and removed last week). Funtown Pier, on the south end of Seaside's boardwalk, was too badly damaged to open this year; it will be back in 2014.

"We are 100 percent ready for visitors," Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers said. "Please, make your plans to come here, and have Jersey support Jersey. Keep your vacation local. If you want to help us, the best way you can do that is to come here and have your summer vacation with us."

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