By Donald Wittkowski
The Springfield Inn, the legendary, no-frills beachfront bar and nightclub that has been part of Sea Isle City’s entertainment scene since the 1970s, may be celebrating its last summer at the Jersey Shore.
The three sisters who own the Springfield have proposed demolishing the old building to make room for a new development that would include a beachfront bar, restaurant and condominiums in a four-story complex, according to city planning documents.
“It’s time. We’ve owned it for 45 years, and it’s time for a change,” co-owner Betsy Cooney said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Cooney and her sisters, Terry Eidenberg and Joanne Bisciotti, took over the Springfield from their parents, Joe and Liz Bisciotti, who opened the bar and nightclub at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue in 1972.
Cooney stressed that the Springfield will remain open this summer. The sisters are still undecided when they would begin the redevelopment project and whether the iconic Springfield Inn name will remain.
“We aren’t sure yet,” Cooney said.
In its current iteration, the Springfield includes a nightclub and the outdoor Carousel Bar, a casual watering hole adjacent to the city’s oceanfront Promenade walkway. A kitchen called JB’s Steaks serves up food for patrons in the Carousel Bar.
Popular with crowds that come right off the beach, the Springfield is known for its unadorned surroundings. The bar’s entertainment lineup often features the Juliano Brothers, a cover band comprised of three heavyset siblings who refer to themselves as a “1,200-pound breathing jukebox.”
Cooney said one of the centerpieces of the redevelopment plan is a casual new outdoor bar that would keep the Carousel name. The project would also include a new restaurant on the first floor of the building, but the name of the eatery and type of food are still undecided, she noted.
“I’m sure the Carousel will stay, but with the rest of the place, we’re undecided,” Cooney said.
Documents on file with the city’s Planning Board show that the new development would be topped off by 13 new condos on the second, third and fourth floors. Cooney said they would be luxury condos catering to Sea Isle’s vacation market.
The Planning Board has already granted approvals for the Springfield’s redevelopment. In a last piece of business, the board approved the project’s parking plans in June. With all of the planning approvals now in place, the Springfield’s owners would simply need to obtain a construction permit to begin building their project, according to Planning Board secretary Genell Ferrilli.
The Springfield’s prime beachfront location makes it a strong candidate for redevelopment. The bar could be the latest local establishment to capitalize on a 2008 change in the city’s zoning law that allows businesses to rebuild commercial properties while adding more residential space.
The idea behind the zoning change was to encourage businesses to stay put in town, instead of seeing them disappear to make room for even more housing. The mixed-use projects include commercial establishments such as bars, restaurants and retail shops operating on the street level, while the top floors feature condos or apartments.
The Townsends Inlet section of Sea Isle, in particular, is undergoing a retail, restaurant and residential rebirth led by development partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris. Last year, Glancey and Morris celebrated the grand opening of the trendy Dunes restaurant, banquet and condo complex on Landis Avenue between 86th and 87th streets.
Glancey and Morris are currently developing two other projects on Landis Avenue, near the Dunes, that will combine upscale retail, restaurant and condo space.
Demolition of the Springfield Inn, meanwhile, would mean the loss of a building that dates to the 1940s or ’30s, said Mike McHale, the city’s former mayor who now serves as president of the Sea Isle Historical Museum.
Before it became the Springfield Inn in 1972, the site served as Massey’s bar and restaurant for a few years, McHale said. However, the property was best known for its time as Travascio’s, a popular restaurant and nightclub decades ago.
“It was a very ‘in’ place,” McHale noted. “It was a big-time dining place.”
Travascio’s – the spelling was provided by city officials after some historic digging – was in business in the 1940s and may have first opened up as far back as the 1930s, McHale said.
“It’s been there a good, many years,” he said of the old building now occupied by the Springfield Inn.