By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio announced in September that the resort town plans to seek money from the state’s newly created $100 million Boardwalk Preservation Fund to finance improvements to the oceanfront Promenade.
Desiderio said he hopes the city will win state approval for about $12 million to $16 million to pay for decorative lighting, additional handicap-accessible ramps and the resurfacing of the entire 1.5-mile Promenade.
When Sea Isle summer homeowner Michael Queen heard about the city’s plans to apply to the Boardwalk Preservation Fund, he came up with the idea for another project – a fishing pier that would extend 750 feet out into the ocean.
“I’m hoping that if the interest is great enough, the mayor and Council would pursue it,” Queen said in an interview.
Queen sent emails to the mayor and members of City Council in late October to pitch his idea. He estimates that the pier would cost in the neighborhood of $3.5 million to build using money from the Boardwalk Preservation Fund.
In his email, Queen said he believes a fishing pier extending off the Promenade at John F. Kennedy Boulevard “would have a tremendously positive impact on the family-friendly nature of Sea Isle City.”
“Situated in town, a pier would be an added jewel alongside Excursion Park. This is not to mention the potential source of revenue, if desired, with funds going to the city, to veterans’ groups and/or to children’s causes,” he wrote.
Queen believes the project would enhance Sea Isle in the same way that the massive fishing pier in Ocean City at 14th Street and the Boardwalk benefits that town. The Ocean City Fishing Club, the pier’s private owner, spent $500,000 to extend the structure by 113 feet in 2021.
With the extension, the Ocean City pier now stretches a total of 748 feet from the Boardwalk at 14th Street, over the beach and out into the ocean.
“A pier, much like the Ocean City (NJ) Fishing Club’s pier on their 14th Street, would be a tremendous asset for SIC and would yield unique opportunity for strolling, relaxing and fishing,” Queen said in his email to Sea Isle officials.
However, Desiderio and City Council President J.B. Feeley are reacting cautiously to Queen’s proposal. Although they didn’t rule it out entirely, they cited a series of likely challenges with financing, permitting and construction that they believe would make such a project improbable.
“I don’t want to say it’s a longshot to do a pier, but I think it would take some heavy lifting,” Desiderio said in an interview.
But Desiderio added that the city would “look into it.”
Feeley raised concerns that construction of a project of that magnitude might have a negative impact on Sea Isle’s beach.
“I wouldn’t say I’m on board yet,” Feeley said of his initial reaction to Queen’s proposal. “It’s a nice thought, but a lot of questions need to be answered.”
Desiderio stressed that a fishing pier likely would not be eligible for the Boardwalk Preservation Fund. The money is supposed to go for the renovation and repair of boardwalks and promenades in New Jersey’s shore town.
Although Sea Isle has applied for money from the fund, it has not yet heard from the state whether it will receive anything.
While city officials consider whether to possibly pursue building a pier, Queen wants to hear whether the public would be interested in such a project. He is inviting members of the public to email him at email@example.com with their thoughts.
Queen’s primary residence is in Belmont, North Carolina. He owns a vacation home in Sea Isle on 40th Street and formerly owned a summer place at the Four Winds Condominiums beginning in the 1980s with his late wife, Donna.
He is a structural engineer and owned an engineering firm for 40 years before retiring. Queen said his engineering experience gives him insight into the challenges of building the type of pier he envisions for Sea Isle.
“It’s not really as bad, though, as it sounds,” he said, referring to some of the concerns raised by Sea Isle officials. “The worst part is the time it would take.”
Fishing piers are not unprecedented in Sea Isle. In 2021, the city built a nearly $1 million fishing pier and kayak launch site on the bayfront near 60th Street behind the Dealy Field recreation complex.
Sea Isle residents who lived in town in the 1960s probably remember the old Ocean Pier, a grand seaside attraction that was used for fishing and sightseeing and also included the Madeline Theatre.
Originally built in the early 1900s, the Ocean Pier even boasted a ballroom for music and dancing and an observation deck at one time.
However, the Madeline Theatre and the pier itself were destroyed by the colossal “Ash Wednesday” coastal storm that pummeled the Jersey Shore in March 1962.