TOMS RIVER – A construction vehicle took a ceremonial swing at the facade of the Red Carpet Inn, a huge roadblock in the downtown’s road to gentrification.
“This is the beginning of the revitalization of downtown Toms River,” Mayor Thomas Kelaher said. “We’re looking forward to bigger, better things.”
His words were punctuated by the crunching sound of the metal claw destroying part of the building behind him. The rest of the demolition, he said, would be finished before the end of the month. It would mostly be done at night, to have the least impact on drivers.
The demolition was a cause for celebration. It was attended by township officials, Downtown Toms River Business Improvement District and Greater Toms River Chamber of Commerce. Residents stood and watched from the bridge and parking lot.
The building, at the corner of West Water Street and Route 9, had been visited 750 times by police since 2015. Many of these calls were in reference to drugs and other crimes that are tied to drugs, like theft, weapons, and prostitution.
Reviews of the hotel were posted online by unsuspecting visitors. They complained of dirty conditions, holes in the walls, people doing illegal activity, and the police responding. There were reviews on Expedia.com like “This place is unique. The bathroom door doesn’t exist.”
Eventually, it was targeted as a nuisance property, stating that the owner willingly created a place that would cater to and attract people to engage in illegal activity.
The mayor thanked Chief Mitch Little for the multi-agency task force that inspected the hotel, ringing up thousands in fines and arresting some occupants. This paved the way for the township to condemn it. The mayor also thanked the numerous hands that helped with the planning, engineering, and financial work this involved.
The township closed the building in October and this year bought it from the owner for $3.3 million after negotiation.
The demolition was done by Site Enterprises, Inc. of Little Egg Harbor. They were the lowest bidder at $345,000, according to the township.
Last year, the township bonded $4.8 million for the purchase and rehabilitation of the property.
What Will Go There?
The township is negotiating with Capodagli Property Company, LLC to redevelop the property.
A waterfront park would be closest to the river. This would provide a buffer to flooding, since the area got hit pretty bad during Superstorm Sandy. The redeveloper would partner with the town in the design and construction of the park. It would keep the existing boat launch and include flood mitigation, township planner David Roberts has said.
There would also be the Meridia Waterside project. This would have two floors of parking that would be shared during business hours with local businesses such as the Music Academy and Ocean Mental Health.
There would be a two-floor restaurant with a roof-top lounge overlooking the water. This restaurant would be run by the redeveloper.
The redeveloper wants to relocate the Poseidon Academy into the street level floor of the new building. This is the small standalone building with the painting of waves on the side designating how high the waters came during Sandy.
There would be a total of 560 proposed housing units between this one and another nearby property. A majority of these units would have one or two bedrooms. But some of them, by law, have to set aside three bedrooms for low-to-moderate income families.
The other nearby property is on the parking lot that’s built on a hill up Irons Street, near the bank.
That property would house the Meridia Overlook. It is proposed to be a total of eight stories. However, since it’s built into a hill, it would only be six stories on the high side of the hill. Four of those stories would be parking.
Presently, there are 200 parking spaces near the Red Carpet and 100 on Irons Street, officials have said. If the proposal goes as planned, these would be replaced with 1,060 public parking spots between the two locations.
Of course, these plans are subject to change. They are just proposals at this point.
Before shovels hit the dirt, the township has to work out the specifics of the redevelopment agreement with the Capodagli Property Company. Then, the proposal would have to go through the local land use board. Presumably, since it is near water, they would also have to be approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The redeveloper has stated that the project would take less than two years to complete each of the two phases.
The project is estimated to cost the redeveloper $114 million. They are looking to give Toms River a payment of $1,056,385 annually for 30 years in lieu of taxes, which the redeveloper estimates as more than the township would normally receive in tax revenue from these buildings.