By Donald Wittkowski
The LaCosta Lounge, a throwback nightclub and one of the centerpieces of the Sea Isle City entertainment scene since the 1960s, has been sold to an investment group that plans to redevelop the property.
However, the LaCosta will remain open for at least the next two summers under the operation of James Bennett, the nightclub owner and restaurateur who holds a lease for the property through October 2019.
“We will be operating here for the next two years. Come in and see us,” Bennett said in remarks aimed at his customers.
Business partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris, who have been transforming Sea Isle in the past two years with a new wave of development projects, have bought the LaCosta complex for $7.3 million, according to a real estate listing. Glancey confirmed the purchase price.
Glancey and Morris purchased LaCosta from the To-Glo Corp., a group headed by Anthony Giampietro. Brothers Anthony and Nick Giampietro have owned the LaCosta Lounge since the 1960s, building it on the former site of the historic Cronecker’s Hotel & Restaurant, LaCosta’s website says.
In a press release announcing the sale, Anthony Giampietro said that “he couldn’t think of a better custodian” for the site than Glancey, who has orchestrated a retail, restaurant and residential revival in Sea Isle’s sleepy Townsends Inlet section.
Glancey said he and Morris intend to redevelop the LaCosta site eventually, but have not yet decided on the type of project they will pursue.
“We’re just starting the process of brainstorming for what can go on that corner,” Glancey said in an interview Wednesday. “It is a fluid timetable.”
The LaCosta sits at the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue, one of the most prominent locations in Sea Isle and the gateway to the downtown business district.
The same site is where some of Sea Isle’s most historic and iconic businesses once stood, including the former Bellevue Hotel and Cronecker’s Hotel & Restaurant. The Giampietro brothers demolished Cronecker’s to build the LaCosta Lounge in the 1960s.
Bennett bought the LaCosta business from the Giampietros in 1993 and has operated it through a lease. The Giampietros continued to own the land and the building.
The LaCosta’s purchase by Glancey and Morris gives them ownership of the building as well as the Coast Motel, the Casino Pizzeria and a parking lot that are also part of the 1.25-acre complex, Glancey said.
The development options for the site will capitalize on its prime location and promise to “elevate” Sea Isle’s business community to another level, Glancey explained.
Glancey also noted that he and Morris are keenly aware of the property’s historic significance dating to Cronecker’s Hotel & Restaurant in the late 1800s. They want to build a project that would continue the tradition of having a major attraction occupy the site.
As real estate developers, Glancey and Morris have already invested millions of dollars for new projects that have revitalized Sea Isle’s Townsends Inlet section. They began in 2016 with their trendy Dunes development, a restaurant, banquet and condominium complex on Landis Avenue between 86th and 87th streets.
The Dunes was developed on the site formerly occupied by Busch’s Seafood Restaurant, a landmark eatery that traced its roots in Sea Isle back to the 1880s. While Busch’s is gone, an upscale Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House restaurant has taken its place as part of the Dunes project.
Glancey and Morris have followed up on the Dunes with two more mixed-use projects in Townsends Inlet called the Cove and the Cape. The three-story buildings, which blend retail, commercial and condo space, are located a block from each other on Landis Avenue between 85th and 87th streets.
The LaCosta, meanwhile, has established its own reputation as one of the best-known bars at the Jersey Shore. The old-school nightclub has hosted multiple generations of party-goers in the past 50 years.
LaCosta also serves as the entertainment epicenter for Sea Isle’s Polar Bear Weekend celebration, the colorful annual event that draws thousands of visitors to town in February for partying, dining, shopping and a chilly plunge in the ocean.
Bennett said he has no regrets in seeing the property sold. He joked that anyone planning a “last hurrah” celebration should come to the LaCosta as it begins the countdown for its final two years of operation.
“I wish everybody the best,” he said.
In addition to operating the LaCosta, Bennett is in the process of rebranding his landmark Lobster Loft restaurant in Sea Isle into a pub-style eatery called the Oar House.
Earlier this year, Bennett had the Lobster Loft on the market for $2.5 million. He changed his mind about selling the bayside restaurant on 42nd Place when he decided to rebrand it.
Sea Isle’s entertainment and restaurant scene is now in a transition phase reflecting the beach town’s red-hot real estate market.
Next door to the Lobster Loft, a half-acre bayfront site at 4210 Park Road is listed for $6 million. Currently, the property is occupied by the Andrea Trattoria Italiana restaurant, but the site is being marketed for redevelopment into a combination of housing and commercial space.
The legendary Springfield Inn bar and nightclub, a Sea Isle fixture since the 1970s, has been up for sale for $6.7 million. It was announced last month that an undisclosed potential buyer has reached a tentative deal to acquire the Springfield as part of a redevelopment plan for the beachfront property at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue. In the meantime, the Springfield will remain open this summer.