SHARE
Brave "polar bears" emerge from the chilly surf during the 2020 plunge.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

In Sea Isle City, it is being called the “million dollar question.”

Where will the Polar Bear Plunge’s partying and entertainment be held in 2021, assuming that the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t force the entire event to be canceled?

LaCosta Lounge, the bar and nightclub that has traditionally hosted the Polar Bear Plunge’s festivities, closed in September following the sale of the property for a redevelopment plan that will include a new hotel.

However, local businessman James Bennett, who owned LaCosta before it was sold, confirmed Sunday that he intends to relocate the Polar Bear Plunge festivities to his Sea Isle restaurant, the Oar House Pub, on 42nd Place.

“Yes, we are moving the event to the Oar House,” Bennett said in a text message.

LaCosta’s closing has stoked speculation and questions whether the Polar Bear Plunge and its revelry would even be held in 2021, and where.

“At this point, we know the million dollar question from people – What about Polar Bear?” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said at a recent meeting of the Sea Isle Tourism Commission.

LaCosta Lounge, now closed, traditionally serves as the epicenter for the Polar Bear Plunge’s weekend festivities.

Every Presidents Day weekend in February, thousands of self-styled “polar bears” descend on Sea Isle for a madcap and frosty dip in the ocean.

The wildly popular plunge, which has been held for 26 years, is the centerpiece of a weekend-long celebration of partying, dining and shopping that awakens the shore town from its winter hibernation and reinvigorates the local economy.

“We always get a nice, big shot when that happens,” Mickey Coskey, a marketing consultant for the Sea Isle Tourism Commission, said of the economic boost that comes from the plunge weekend.

Many of Sea Isle’s businesses, normally closed for the winter, reopen just for the celebration. The timing of the Polar Bear Plunge with the Presidents Day weekend allows the town to capitalize on the extended holiday weekend.

Although the plunge itself unfolds on the public beaches, the traditional Polar Bear costume party and other festivities that took place at LaCosta were privately run by Bennett and the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, Custer said.

But now there are plans for the LaCosta site to be redeveloped for an upscale hotel, banquet hall, restaurant and bar complex known as The Ludlam. Local businessmen Christopher Glancey and Bob Morris bought the property, located at the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue, for $7.3 million in 2018 with the intention of redeveloping it.

Large tents are erected each year on the LaCosta Lounge property for the Polar Bear celebration.

During their meeting on Oct. 8, members of the Sea Isle Tourism Commission noted that they are being asked by the public whether the Polar Bear Plunge would even take place in 2021 following LaCosta’s closing.

In response, that’s when Custer made her “million dollar question” comment to the commission.

Each year, Bennett would erect large tents on the LaCosta property for the Polar Bear Plunge costume party and other entertainment. Partiers could legally drink alcohol on the bar’s private property.

George Savastano, Sea Isle’s business administrator, said city officials intend to sit down with Bennett to discuss possible new sites for the Polar Bear festivities.

Savastano said there have been no serious talks yet about alternative sites, but stressed that alcoholic beverages would not be allowed if any Polar Bear events are held on public property.

“Anything we do on public property wouldn’t involve alcohol,” he said.

Thousands of spectators stream into the downtown area to enjoy Polar Bear Plunge weekend.