BY DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sue Elliott walked past the shuttered Springfield Inn’s outdoor Carousel Bar on Sunday afternoon and told her friends, Yair Escudero and Joann Simmons, “That place used to be packed.”
Elliott was among the legions of customers who rolled straight off the beach in their bathing suits and flip-flops to enjoy the casual bar’s unadorned surroundings during its nearly 50-year existence in Sea Isle City.
“I miss it, especially today. Sunday was always a big day there. People would come off the beach for a cocktail,” recalled Elliott, a shore vacationer from Glen Mills, Pa.
These days, the Springfield Inn is empty and stark – closed since a final farewell party on Sept. 21, 2019. “Private Property … Keep Out” signs and a vinyl fence block off access to the gazebo-style outdoor bar and tables that once were mobbed with summer crowds.
A Pennsylvania-based investment group that is buying the Springfield received approval last September from Sea Isle’s Planning Board to redevelop the site, but the old building remains standing, along with the weeds that poke through the beach sand at the former Carousel Bar.
Janet DeLorenzo, a real estate agent representing the buyers, said in a text Sunday that the sale did not fall through and is expected to be finalized in “a few weeks.” She did not provide any other details.
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said Sunday he hasn’t heard anything recently about the Springfield’s sale.
According to the redevelopment plans, the existing building will be demolished and replaced with a three-story complex that will include a new restaurant, outdoor bar and banquet complex topped by condominiums.
The Springfield’s coveted beachfront location at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue makes it a strong candidate for redevelopment. It is the only beachfront business in Sea Isle that has a liquor license.
Springfield Inn was on the market for more than a year for $6.7 million. It has not yet been disclosed how much the new buyers are paying.
The new group taking ownership of the Springfield Inn is called HKM43 LLC. It is an acronym for the initials of the last names of the buyers as well as a reference to the Springfield’s location on 43rd Street.
Three investors will each own a 33.3 percent stake. They include Brian Halligan, of Flourtown, Pa., John Krinis, of Glenside, Pa., and Chris Myers, of Blue Bell, Pa., according to the planning board documents.
Halligan is the owner and managing partner of MEH Investments, a company that has developed commercial, residential and apartment projects in the Philadelphia area.
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.
In previous interviews, DeLorenzo said the buyers want to preserve the Springfield’s iconic name by retaining it when the property is redeveloped. They also plan to keep the name of the Springfield’s popular Carousel Bar, according to planning documents.
Plans call for a new restaurant and the Carousel Bar on the first level of the complex. The rest of the project will include a banquet hall on the second floor and four upscale condos on the third level.
Elliott, the former Springfield Inn customer, thinks that a rooftop bar should be included in the development plans.
“I might be the first one to suggest putting a bar on the roof. Do you have any idea how many people that would draw?” she said, noting that the rooftop bars she has visited in Boston were always popular.
The old Springfield Inn featured an indoor nightclub that had low ceilings and a funky, garage-rock-type atmosphere as well as the beachy Carousel Bar.
The building was marked by an old sign on the roof that said, “Springfield Inn … Live Entertainment.” A recent storm, though, damaged the sign to cut off the letters “ment” from the word “entertainment.”
Viewed from Sea Isle’s Promenade walkway, the Carousel Bar still has some of the reminders of its past, including one sign that gives a rundown of last summer’s entertainment lineup and another sign that advertises $3 bottles of Corona beer.
Elliott, who declined to give her age other than to say “over 50,” noted that she started going to the Springfield Inn when she was just 18, which was the legal drinking age in New Jersey in those days.
Although the buyers reportedly plan to retain the Springfield Inn and Carousel Bar names, Elliott believes the old identity should be allowed to fade into history when the new complex is built.
“I think it would be great to have it rebranded. It would be something all new,” she said.