By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Just weeks after one deal for the property fell through, a new buyer has stepped forward to purchase the iconic Springfield Inn in Sea Isle City and plans to transform the site into an outdoor beach bar and restaurant that would open for next summer.
Gary Holloway, founder of GMH Restaurant Holdings, said that his plans for the Springfield Inn site will be modeled after an outdoor beach-themed bar he has developed in Somers Point, called The Point.
The Springfield Inn will be demolished to make room for an attraction that would bring “a whole new flair to Sea Isle,” he said.
“We believe that what we will bring to the city is something that is so unique. You’ll see the success we’ve had in Somers Point in running the same facility,” Holloway said while revealing his plans to City Council during a teleconference meeting Tuesday.
The Springfield Inn, a Sea Isle landmark since the 1970s, closed in September 2019 in anticipation of its sale then to a Pennsylvania-based development group called HKM43 LLC. The group wanted to demolish the old building to make room for a new three-story complex featuring a restaurant, outdoor bar, banquet hall and condos.
However, the developers announced last month that they had withdrawn from the sale talks after their investors “got cold feet” amid the coronavirus pandemic, delays in closing the deal and an unsuccessful attempt to secure a bank loan to help finance the purchase.
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.
Over the years, Springfield’s casual surroundings and outdoor Carousel Bar were popular with partiers who would come straight off the beach dressed in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
Holloway began negotiating with the owners several weeks ago and has reached “an exclusive letter of intent” to buy the property. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Dustin Laricks, a Sea Isle real estate broker who represents the three sisters, confirmed that there is an agreement to sell the property to Holloway’s GMH Restaurant Holdings group pending regulatory approvals.
“To the best of our knowledge, this proposed plan is permitted under the current zoning. However, certain local approvals are still needed,” Laricks said.
In his remarks to City Council, Holloway said his company expects to submit its development plan to Sea Isle’s planning board by Nov. 1. The board would have to give its approval for the project to be built.
Holloway wants to start construction in February and have the bar ready by May, the traditional start of the Jersey Shore’s peak summer tourism season. The bar and restaurant would operate seasonally, closing down around October, depending on the weather, he noted.
The hours of operation would be from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Holloway stressed that he has no plans to operate as a late-night bar.
“We have no interest to be in the late-night bar business, because that business already exists in Sea Isle,” he said.
Holloway, a resident of Ocean City for 50 years, said he is intimately familiar with the seasonal nature of the Jersey Shore’s bar and restaurant scene. He operated the Waterfront Restaurant in Somers Point for 17 years before demolishing it last year and replacing it with The Point, the outdoor, tiki-style bar that will serve as the template for his Sea Isle project.
“We look at Sea Isle as a booming industry,” he told City Council. “It is a shore town. It’s always been a well-known shore town. This restaurant, that we perceive, I think will bring a whole new flair to Sea Isle.”
The Springfield Inn has been on the market for $6.7 million. Springfield’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.
Laricks noted that Holloway’s redevelopment plan is dramatically different than the bar, restaurant and condo complex that had been proposed by the HKM43 group.
“The previously approved project for this site included multiple residential units in addition to a restaurant and an outdoor bar. This plan resolves a lot of the concerns that were raised with respect to parking and increased density in the previously approved project,” Laricks said. “That, combined with the inviting landscape and architectural design in the newly proposed plan, will be a nice addition to Sea Isle City, in my opinion.”
Although Holloway divulged his plans to City Council, the governing body has no direct role in overseeing private development projects in Sea Isle. City Council President William Kehner stressed that Holloway would instead need approvals from the city’s planning or zoning boards.
“We know it’s not necessary for us to come to Council. But again, that’s not how we operate. We like to operate and get everybody involved so the people not only welcome this, but look forward to something that’s different and unique,” Holloway said in response to Kehner.
City Council, though, would have to approve the transfer of the Springfield Inn’s liquor license from the current owners to Holloway’s group. City Solicitor Paul Baldini told Holloway that Council likely would not approve of the liquor license transfer if his development included direct access from Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade to the bar. The Promenade is a popular gathering point for families.
Although architectural renderings depict direct access between the Promenade and the bar, Holloway assured city officials that he will change that part of the project to comply with the city’s wishes.
Holloway met privately Monday night with representatives of a condominium complex next door to the Springfield Inn site to lay out his plans. He acknowledged that members of the 4400 Beach Condo Association have concerns about the music and other noise that would be created by the outdoor bar. He said he plans to strictly adhere to Sea Isle’s noise ordinances.
Tony Desderio, president of the condo association, told the Council members during the teleconference meeting, that there is a “real split” among the association whether to support Holloway’s project.
In a concession to the association, Holloway has agreed to build a noise-abatement wall, according to John King, another condo owner.
Claudia Vanderslice, another condo owner, said she believes Holloway’s project would be too large and too loud for its location next to private homes and Sea Isle’s family-friendly Promenade.
“I don’t think it’s a good fit for a mostly residential neighborhood and a Promenade that’s geared toward families,” Vanderslice said on the teleconference.