By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The Springfield Inn is back on the market after a deal to sell the landmark Sea Isle City bar to a Pennsylvania-based development group fell through, both sides confirmed.
Negotiations dragged on for about two years. The would-be buyers notified the Springfield Inn’s owners on Monday that they were finally withdrawing from the proposed sale.
“We just came up short,” said Chris Myers, one of the partners of the Pennsylvania group called HKM43 LLC.
Myers said investors backing the partners “got cold feet” amid uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic, delays in completing the deal and an unsuccessful attempt to secure a bank loan to help finance the purchase.
In the meantime, the Springfield Inn is still listed for sale as the owners consider other offers for the beachfront property at 43rd Street and Pleasure Avenue.
“We are currently entertaining other offers,” said Dustin Laricks, a Sea Isle real estate broker who represents the owners.
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.
When asked whether the three sisters might consider reopening the Springfield in 2021 if they could not find a buyer, Laricks replied, “I would say anything is possible.”
Springfield Inn has been on the market for $6.7 million. Myers declined to disclose how much his group had offered to pay.
The bar’s coveted beachfront location makes it a strong candidate for redevelopment. It is the only beachfront business in Sea Isle that has a liquor license.
Myers and his partners received Sea Isle planning board approval last year to redevelop the site into a three-story complex featuring a new restaurant and outdoor bar on the first floor, a banquet hall on the second and four upscale condominiums on the top.
However, Myers revealed that the partners revamped their plans during the pandemic to instead develop a “COVID-friendly” outdoor bar. It would have retained the name of the Springfield’s outdoor Carousel Bar.
“We wanted to have a Carousel Bar on steroids,” Myers said in an interview.
Myers’ development group, HKM43, is an acronym for the initials of the last names of the three partners as well as a reference to the Springfield’s location on 43rd Street.
The other two partners include Brian Halligan, of Flourtown, Pa., and John Krinis, of Glenside, Pa., according to documents on file with the planning board. Myers is from Blue Bell, Pa., and has a summer vacation home in Sea Isle.
Halligan is the owner and managing partner of MEH Investments, a company that has developed commercial, residential and apartment projects in the Philadelphia area.
In what was first thought to be a prelude to the sale, City Council on Sept. 8 approved the annual renewal of the Springfield Inn’s liquor license for the existing owners, even though the bar is closed.
Council President William Kehner explained that the liquor license would have been sent back to the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control if the owners did not renew it by Sept. 30.
Now that the license is renewed, buyers of the Springfield Inn would be in position to have it transferred in their name after they acquire the property. Otherwise, the sale might be complicated if the buyers would have to obtain an entirely new liquor license, Kehner said.
Myers, who praised the Springfield’s owners for working with his group during the negotiations, did not rule out the possibility that he and his partners could make a second attempt to acquire the property under different terms.
“In the end, if something comes up, who knows?” he said. “Never say never moving forward.”
The old Springfield Inn would be torn down to make room for the property’s redevelopment. The bar closed on Sept. 21, 2019, in what was billed as a final farewell prior to its sale.
For years, legions of customers would roll straight off the beach in their bathing suits and flip-flops to enjoy the bar’s no-frills atmosphere.
Now, the Springfield and its Carousel Bar sit stark and empty, their fate unclear following the unsuccessful sale to the Pennsylvania development group.
“Private Property … Keep Out” signs and a vinyl fence block off access to the Carousel’s gazebo-style outdoor bar and tables that once were mobbed with summer crowds.