About two months after Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey, hitting ground in Atlantic City, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno took a tour of three barrier islands impacted by the storm, and Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell took the opportunity to make a request.
He asked Guadagno about the possibility of using Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) funds to help businesses recover. He asked the question as Guadagno was wrapping up her tours of Margate, Longport and Ventnor.
Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation (S1323/A2575), which amended the current law that required the CRDA to devote all future assets and revenue to the Atlantic City Tourism District.
Bagnell asked if there was a way to make an exception for businesses in the area impacted by the storm.
“We get major traffic coming through here from Somers Point, Atlantic City, Margate, Longport, all those places,” Bagnell said in making his request.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of this,” Guadagno said of the suggestion. “We can ask and see where they are. Atlantic City already made huge sacrifices when they lost the League of Municipalities Convention and the (NJEA) teachers’ convention. We told them we would help the market and do what we could.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Christopher J. Connors introduced legislation that would divert some CRDA funding to the Garden State Parkway Interchange project on Route 30 in Galloway, but no progress has been made on that legislation.
Bagnell accompanied Guadagno on the tour through Ventnor on Friday, as did Assemblymen Chris Brown, and John Amodeo, and representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Governor’s Office.
Guadagno was encouraged by what she saw overall, but recognized the need to promote businesses in the area.
“People need to know it’s safe to be here,” Guadagno said following her tours of Longport, Margate and Ventnor. “ … There’s a major problem with businesses opening and people not knowing about it. It’s the same out in Long Branch and up and down the coast, where businesses are open, but no one knows it because the storm was so devastating.”
Guadagno came away with the impression that many New Jersey residents were staying away from shore towns because they didn’t know it was safe to return.
“Even in Atlantic City, the boardwalk is in tact, and people should go see it,” Guadagno said.
“The businesses are here to serve the people,” Bagnell said. “Only Ventnor Heights was harmed. The businesses in the rest of Ventnor are open.”
The storm hit on Oct. 29, and Guadagno made her trip south on Friday to assess the impact the storm had on the dunes on the barrier islands in question. She walked out of Ventnor impressed with the way the dunes held up and the state of the boardwalk, which was completely intact.
“This is an example of why we have dunes and engineered beaches,” Guadagno said. “It’s still a beautiful beach and a beautiful boardwalk.”
The businesses in Ventnor fared well, including Lisa’s Pizzeria on Atlantic Avenue, which suffered no damage due to the storm. The pizza shop that has been in existence in Ventnor for 20 years was up and running two days after the storm, according to owner Lisa Savage.
“(Business has) been quiet,” said Savage, who feels tourism needs to be promoted in the area. “We need to get the word out that we are here.”
Some businesses in Ventnor Heights are also open, including Wawa and the Red Room Café, where there was over three feet of water during the storm.
“We lost some equipment and food, but we were back up in three full weeks,” Red Room owner Jack Gatta said. “We’re recovering. We’re doing the best we can.”
“We’re seeing the best in people,” Brown said. “We’re seeing communities coming together to make sure we heal and rebuild. We are very resilient, and although we are down, we’re not out.”