By Donald Wittkowski
During walks with his dog, Lowell Burlap often passes by a parking lot at the end of 42nd Place that stands out because it has a surface made of crushed, gleaming white clam shells.
There is another reason why the prominently located property in Sea Isle City has caught his attention. It is empty.
“While walking the dog, I’ve always thought to myself, ‘There’s got to be a better use for this property,'” Burlap said.
Burlap, the owner of a vacation condo in Sea Isle at 4114 Central Ave., appeared at a City Council meeting on Tuesday to ask about the parking lot.
In response to Burlap’s questions, City Business Administrator George Savastano disclosed that Sea Isle has been approached by a company that has expressed interest in transforming the public land into an amusement site, possibly a waterpark.
“We are looking at potential opportunities to do something,” Savastano said. “We’ve been very careful, very deliberate, in moving forward with them.”
Savastano stressed that the city is in no rush to see the municipally owned parking lot turned into something else. He said the city would be “very sensitive” to the needs of surrounding homeowners and businesses if it ever seriously considers a redevelopment plan.
Because the land is publicly owned, the city would first have to seek formal proposals from potential developers instead of giving one company the inside track to redevelop the site, Savastano noted.
The city would retain ultimate control of the land as the owner.
“We have no intention of selling that property,” Savastano said in an interview.
The “clam shell parking lot,” as the property is known locally, is mainly used for the storage of city equipment and parking for municipal vehicles. On occasion, it is used as an overflow public parking lot when Sea Isle is inundated with visitors during major holidays.
Its location directly across from the city’s bayfront marina makes it an attractive location. The property also sits at the base of the John F. Kennedy Boulevard bridge, the main entryway into town.
The parking lot was once part of a larger piece of land formerly used for an amusement park called Gillian’s Funland of Sea Isle City. Funland operated for five years before its owner, Jay Gillian, pulled out of Sea Isle in 2014 after the amusement park was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and never fully recovered.
Gillian, the mayor of Ocean City, is the owner of Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on the Ocean City Boardwalk. When he decided to close Funland, Gillian told the media that he wanted to concentrate on his flagship Wonderland Pier operation.
Funland leased the property from Sea Isle in a public-private partnership. Sea Isle, in turn, received a 10 percent cut of the amusement park’s revenues, according to media reports.
Savastano confirmed that the city is in discussions with another company about possibly turning the property into an amusement park, but did not name it.
“There’s nothing concrete, but we’re talking,” he said.
Burlap, meanwhile, has a few ideas of his own for repurposing the property.
He wonders if it could be turned into a discount parking lot for the employees of local businesses. That way, the parking spaces that are currently used by employees in the downtown business district could be freed up for residents and visitors, he said.
Burlap also believes the property offers potential as a site for a new parking garage. Savastano, though, said the city has no interest in a parking garage because there wouldn’t be enough demand year-round to justify its multimillion-dollar construction cost.
Burlap is a retired police officer whose full-time residence is in Lindenwold, Camden County. In his hometown, he serves as a liaison between the local police department and the school district, he said.
A self-described problem-solver, Burlap said he remains ready to help Sea Isle find a better use for the land on 42nd Place.
But until the parking lot is redeveloped – if ever – he and his golden retriever, Sarge, will continue to walk past an empty piece of property.