By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Condominium owners who live next door to the now-closed Springfield Inn complained to Sea Isle City officials Tuesday that the old bar has fallen into disrepair and threatens to become “a major disaster for the city.”
“The entire building needs to be locked and secured for the safety of those living in close proximity. The structure is a fire hazard that is just waiting to happen,” John King, a member of the 4400 Beach Condo Association, told City Council.
Dominic Desderio, the president of the condo association, said the Springfield Inn is in “abominable” shape. He and King urged city officials to intervene before the building deteriorates even more over the winter.
“We’re hoping that this committee can take action to ensure this building and the hazard that it currently presents does not injure (someone) or, even worse, turn into a major disaster for the city,” King said to the Council members during a remote meeting conducted by teleconference.
In response to the complaints, Mayor Leonard Desiderio told the condo owners that city officials have already inspected the Springfield Inn and will make sure that repairs are completed on the property at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue.
“We want you to know we had a number of inspectors go up there last week and view the property. They are compiling a list and they are prepared to take action to get some of the repairs and some of the things that need to be done, done,” the mayor said.
King cited a litany of what he characterized as “safety concerns” with the building and the Springfield Inn property. He said they include tools, debris and machinery left on the roof, broken signs on the outer walls and insulation protruding from the windows and lying on the ground. He also said the property is marred by trash and overgrown weeds at the Springfield’s old outdoor bar, the Carousel.
“The primary issue that we would like to present to the committee today is that building is falling into disarray and in our eyes is fast becoming a major safety hazard to the community,” King said. “With the upcoming winter weather and the current hurricane season, concerns about the status of the building become even more serious.”
The Springfield Inn, a Sea Isle landmark since the 1970s, closed in September 2019 in anticipation of its sale to a Pennsylvania-based development group that wanted to demolish the old building to make room for a new three-story complex featuring a restaurant, outdoor bar, banquet hall and condos.
However, the developers announced last month that they had withdrawn from the sale talks after their investors “got cold feet” amid the coronavirus pandemic, delays in closing the deal and an unsuccessful attempt to secure a bank loan to help finance the purchase.
The Springfield Inn opened in 1972 under the ownership of the Bisciotti family. Sisters Betsy Cooney, Terry Eidenberg and Joanne Bisciotti followed their parents, Joe and Liz Bisciotti, as the Springfield’s owners.
Dustin Laricks, a Sea Isle real estate broker who represents the Springfield’s owners, said in an interview after the Council meeting Tuesday that he was not aware of any complaints about the property.
“If I’m presented with whatever the inspectors’ findings are, I’ll certainly present them to the property owners. But this is the first I’ve heard about it,” Laricks said.
In the meantime, the Springfield Inn is back on the market for $6.7 million. The bar’s coveted beachfront location makes it a strong candidate for redevelopment. It is the only beachfront business in Sea Isle that has a liquor license.
City Council’s meeting also included a discussion about the liquor license for another closed Sea Isle bar, the LaCosta Lounge. Council was expected to approve the transfer of the liquor license from LaCosta’s former owner to another entity, but the item was pulled from the agenda.
Samuel Reale, an attorney representing the city, explained that LaCosta’s former owner, James Bennett, has not yet consented to the transfer of his liquor license to a group called 42nd Place Liquor LLC, the new owner of the property.
Until he agrees to transfer the liquor license, it will essentially remain in Bennett’s “pocket,” Reale told Council. In the meantime, Council has no involvement with the license or any authority over it, he noted.
“So the license is, in the colloquial sense, inactive,” Reale said. “It cannot be utilized until someone, be it Bennett or someone else or some other entity, makes an application to you to site that license at a place and a location in the city.”
“So at this point, moving forward is not within your authority. This item will just sit, for a lack of a better legal description,” he added.
Local developers Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris, the principals of 42nd Place Liquor LLC, bought the LaCosta Lounge in 2018 for $7.3 million and have announced plans to demolish it to make way for a new hotel, banquet, restaurant and bar complex.
Also at the Council meeting, Mayor Desiderio announced that Cape May County has agreed to clean up the litter that has been accumulating along Sea Isle Boulevard, the city’s main entryway.
Styrofoam coolers, cardboard boxes, discarded paper, sheets of plastic wrap and other trash mar the bayside scenery along the boulevard, which is a county road. However, the county plans to send a cleanup crew out to the boulevard this week and will continue to remove litter from the road on a regular basis, Desiderio said.
“The county this morning said that they will put a regular crew out there and will get someone out there this week to clean up the debris,” he said. “That’s something that is much needed for our main entranceway into our community. So we’ll be back on our regular schedule with the cleanup.”