By Donald Wittkowski
Two developers who are building millions of dollars in retail, restaurant and residential projects in Townsends Inlet have teamed up again to try to save one of Sea Isle City’s best known community landmarks from foreclosure
Business partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris hope to rescue the historic Townsends Inlet Civic Center from its tax difficulties so it can be preserved as a community center and entertainment hub.
Glancey and Morris are looking to give the civic center some breathing room by buying its tax certificate while its private owner, the Townsends Inlet Improvement Association, works out a plan to pay off its back taxes.
“We’re trying,” Glancey said in an interview Wednesday. “This is the best we can do right now.”
The Townsends Inlet Improvement Association faces the threat of foreclosure after falling behind on more than $45,000 in local property taxes. The city placed a lien against the property and sold the tax certificate to an entity called Pro Cap 4 LLC.
The principals behind Pro Cap 4 have not yet been made public. But Glancey said his attorney has been in negotiations with the lawyer representing Pro Cap 4 about buying the tax certificate to remove the threat of foreclosure.
“All it does is, it removes the specter of foreclosure over the tax lien,” Glancey said.
As of May 7, Pro Cap 4 had the right to initiate foreclosure proceedings in state Superior Court, but it is not clear whether it has filed the paperwork yet to formally start the process, said Paula Doll, Sea Isle’s tax collector.
If Glancey and Morris buy the tax certificate, the Townsends Inlet Improvement Association would no longer have to worry about losing the civic center in foreclosure, giving it more time to regroup.
The association’s financial difficulties began several years ago when it failed to file the required paperwork to maintain its tax-exempt status, forcing Sea Isle to begin taxing the civic center property as required by law. Afterward, the association fell behind in paying the taxes.
Glancey said if he and Morris buy the tax certificate, the next step would be for the association to file paperwork to regain its tax-exempt status.
Although the civic center is fighting for its survival now, it has a storied history as a cultural landmark, community hub and entertainment venue. A plaque on the facade indicates the building dates to 1888. For years, it hosted concerts, dances, beauty pageants, church services, pancake breakfasts, flea markets, holiday celebrations and many other special events.
With Glancey and Morris getting involved, it gives the civic center the backing of two prominent figures who are reshaping the sleepy Townsends Inlet section of Sea Isle with a series of major development projects.
In 2016, they celebrated the grand opening of their trendy Dunes condo, restaurant and banquet complex on Landis Avenue between 86th and 87th streets. The complex features a Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House restaurant on the first floor and 13 upscale rental condos on the second and third stories.
Construction is underway on another Glancey-Morris mixed-use development across the street from The Dunes at 87th Street and Landis Avenue. Scheduled for completion this summer, the project will feature 11 luxury rental condos, retail space and a restaurant.
Glancey and Morris are also the developers of a commercial and residential project at the corner of 85th Street and Landis Avenue that will revive the iconic Blitz’s grocery store name. A new 4,000-square-foot Blitz’s store will occupy the first floor of the building, while the second and third stories will include nine upscale rental condos. The grand opening is scheduled this summer.
Meanwhile, the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization is also looking at ways to help the Townsends Inlet Civic Center. The Chamber is considering the possibility of applying for a historic restoration grant to refurbish the center and keep it going as a community hub. Glancey serves as the Chamber president.
At their board meeting on May 2, Glancey and other Chamber members discussed the possibility of the Chamber using its designation as a member of New Jersey’s Main Street community revitalization program to apply for a historic restoration grant for the civic center.
Peeling paint and a weather-beaten exterior suggest that the 19th century building is in need of a major overhaul. Chamber officials are unsure of the condition of the interior because the doors are locked and no one has been able to get a peek inside recently.
“It is dilapidated,” Glancey said.
As long as foreclosure looms, the fate of the civic center is uncertain. The building is located on 85th Street about a block from the beach, a prime location that could be tempting to condominium developers.
“If it turns into condos, it’s a bad outcome for everyone,” said Kevin Lavan, a Sea Isle summer resident and civic center proponent who has started a Facebook page to rally community support for the building.
Lavan, who is not with the Townsends Inlet Improvement Association, has been consulting with Glancey on efforts to rescue the civic center. Lavan has written to city officials for clarification on how the association might regain its tax-exempt status.
“I think it’s a shame that the city can’t figure out ways to save community assets,” Lavan said, referring to the civic center.
However, Sea Isle Business Administrator George Savastano said in April that the Townsends Inlet Improvement Association failed to respond to the city’s attempts to contact the organization about the back taxes.
“They have to pay their taxes,” Savastano said. “There’s not much the city can do other than to let them know what they need to do. We have an obligation to collect taxes.”