By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City’s Zoning Board has scheduled a special meeting Jan. 21 to review a proposed all-suite hotel that would replace the landmark LaCosta Lounge and dramatically transform the main entryway into town.
The developers of The Ludlam hotel project are seeking board approval for two zoning variances that would allow them to slightly exceed the maximum building height of 40 feet and include extra signage on the property.
Business partners Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris bought LaCosta Lounge for $7.3 million in 2018 with the intention of redeveloping the site. The Ludlam project will include a 46-suite hotel, a restaurant, an outdoor bar and banquet space for special events such as weddings.
Glancey said The Ludlam represents the next generation of commercial development for the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue, the primary gateway to the downtown business district.
“This is the most important corner in Sea Isle,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The Jan. 21 zoning board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall, is a crucial part of the construction approvals Glancey and Morris need for their project.
Zoning officials, however, said that in order for the meeting to be held, back taxes on the property of about $22,000 and escrow fees of around $5,000 must be paid beforehand. The escrow fees represent the money the developers pay to the zoning board’s engineer and attorney to review a project.
Glancey stressed that both the back taxes and escrow fees will be paid off in plenty of time before the zoning meeting.
Although they had originally planned to demolish the LaCosta in the fall to begin construction on their new project, Glancey and Morris will now hold off until late 2020. In the meantime the LaCosta continues to stay in business.
Over the years, the LaCosta Lounge has established a 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.
When it opened in the 1960s, the LaCosta was built on the same spot where some of Sea Isle’s most historic businesses once stood, including the former Bellevue Hotel and Cronecker’s Hotel & Restaurant dating to the late 1800s.
Glancey said The Ludlam will continue the transformation of the high-profile corner into a new attraction that reflects the needs of Sea Isle’s evolving tourism market. It would represent the first new hotel built in Sea Isle since the 1970s or ’80s, he noted.
“It makes sure that we are meeting the standards for building a hotel in 2020 instead of a hotel built in the 1970s,” Glancey said.
The hotel will fill a need for more “transient lodging” for Sea Isle’s tourists, he explained.
As Sea Isle has become more affluent in recent years, a trend has emerged in which wealthy second homeowners are using their houses exclusively for themselves instead of renting them out to visitors for weeklong summer vacations. As a result, there are not enough rental properties to serve the market, creating a strong need for a new hotel, Glancey said.
“I think the town is in need of transient lodging,” he said. “We’ve been losing rental housing. Rental permits are down. We have less rentals for people to stay at in the summertime.”
Glancey believes the hotel will also help to draw visitors to town during the slower time of week, Mondays through Wednesdays. Local merchants have been complaining for years about a drop-off in business during the midweek period, a trend blamed on the declining number of rental properties.
The Ludlam, meanwhile, promises to bring a new level of upscale lodging to Sea Isle. Glancey cited statistics from the American Hotel & Lodging Association that note that for every $100 that hotel guests spend in lodging, they spend an additional $220 in the local community for such things as food, beverage, transportation and retail shopping.
Glancey said the hotel’s target market will be families that spend a few days on vacation.
There will be a total of 95 parking spaces to serve The Ludlam’s entire hotel, restaurant and bar complex, more than the city’s minimum requirement of 84 spaces for a project of this size.
Glancey and Morris took control of a 1.25-acre site when they bought the LaCosta Lounge. The deal also included the adjacent Coast Motel, the Casino Pizzeria and the surrounding parking lot. All of the existing buildings will be demolished to make room for The Ludlam project.
Other parts of Sea Isle have already been transformed by development projects owned by Glancey and Morris. They specialize in mixed-use projects that combine restaurant or retail space on the first floor with high-end condominiums on the top two stories.
They are best known for their Dunes, Cove and Cape mixed-use developments lining the Landis Avenue corridor in Sea Isle’s Townsends Inlet section.