WILDWOOD - Preparations are underway for President Donald Trump’s visit to Wildwood, Jan. 28. According to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd), the Wildwood rally has the highest ticket request (about 100,000, per media reports) of any of Trump’s close to 50 similar events across the nation, so far.
“It’s going to be a madhouse. It’s going to be fun,” Van Drew told the Herald. “It’s going to be a very, very busy day.”
Van Drew will fly in, from Washington, with Trump, on Air Force One, for the 7 p.m. rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center. While aboard, Van Drew said he hopes to discuss South Jersey with the president.
“I hope to have a good conversation with him about some of the issues I believe are so important, particularly to New Jersey and South Jersey. We have great challenges in South Jersey, and we’re all aware of them,” he said.
According to Van Drew, who recently switched from Democrat to Republican, after voting against impeaching Trump, South Jersey is often forgotten, but that ends now.
“What amazing people we have, what amazing facilities we have, what an amazing environment we have. It is a very special place,” Van Drew said of South Jersey.
“We could have done this in Philadelphia or New York, and the president still would have done it for me,” he explained, “but I absolutely wanted it to be right here.”
Wildwood Mayor Peter Byron said there are no preliminary estimates, as to what the visit would cost the city. He expects Republicans to pay for any costs the city incurs associated with Trump’s visit.
“This is a Republican party,” Byron said, in an interview with the Herald. “Therefore, the guys throwing this party should be the ones to foot the bill for it.”
“We’ve instructed all of our police, fire, EMT (emergency medical technicians), public works, anyone who touches this event to keep track of all of the expenses,” Byron added. “At that point, we will put them all together and put a letter together and send it to the local Republican county party and hope for reimbursement.”
When asked if he expects that request would be met, the mayor said he wasn’t sure.
“No, I haven’t gotten indication one way or another, frankly,” Byron replied.
Published reports online indicate other cities that have hosted similar rallies invoiced the Trump campaign, and are waiting for reimbursement.
“All you need to do is Google, and you’ll see those kinds of stories,” Byron said, “but you know what, you just be persistent. Just because you see it in the paper doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it will be here in Wildwood. We’re going to do our best to get reimbursed, so that isn’t on the taxpayers.”
Lorenz Walker, mayor of Bossier City, La., which hosted a similar rally Nov. 14, 2019, told the Herald that the Trump campaign booked the venue there directly, and paid in full. Walker did not try getting reimbursements for ancillary costs incurred by the city, which he said were minor.
“The impact on taxpayers was surprisingly minimal,” Walker said, adding that most of the security costs were absorbed by the Trump campaign and the host venue.
Don Lewis, chief operations officer in Tupelo, Miss., which has hosted Trump twice, said they also did not request money from the campaign or Republican Party.
“We were not responsible for any logistics on site. Anything at the venue was on his campaign.
"Where we did have the extra cost was the overtime for some police officers to participate, and to help with roadblocks through our Public Works Department. It was not a large fee,” said Lewis. “It was just the cost of doing business for us.”
Byron added that even though he will fight for reimbursement, if the money does not come, there are benefits to the exposure the visit will give the town to be weighed and considered.
“Assuming that this isn’t a ‘big-ticket item,’ and I don’t have a definition for ‘big ticket,’ but if it’s reasonable, I would say if we’re not able to get reimbursed for it, yes I would be very upset, but in the grand schemes of all the national exposure that this has brought Wildwood, we would never have enough in our budget to be able to reach out nationally, the way this event has given us. In a way, it’s a real good shot in the arm for us,” Byron said.
Emails to the Trump campaign were not returned.
Hotels, Other Businesses
“Every single hotel and motel in the Wildwoods is booked,” reported Van Drew. “They’re all filled. This is going to be an amazing thing for Wildwood, and not only for Wildwood, but for all of South Jersey to have this opportunity.”
The Bolero Resort, on Atlantic Avenue, about 10 blocks from the Convention Center, is one example.
“It’s been all hands on deck getting everything ready,” Michael Lerro, general manager of the Bolero, said in an interview with the Herald.
“We closed the hotel Monday night (Jan. 6), we had zero rooms rented at that time. I came in the next morning at 8 a.m., we already had 40 rooms sold online, waiting to be put into the system,” Lerro said of bookings for Jan. 28. “By 4 p.m. that day, we were completely sold out.”
According to Lerro, 117 of the hotel’s 120 rooms were made available to rent for the president’s visit, and all 117 are booked Jan. 28; 30 of those 117 rooms were completely winterized, and the hotel is working to get them ready for guests by Jan. 27.
Lerro said that the night before the event is nearly sold out as well.
“This is national. This is actually international. This isn’t a little thing. This is definitely the biggest thing ever to come to this area,” Lerro exclaimed. “A sitting president is coming to a little island in the middle of winter. It’s unbelievable.”
The Bolero, which stays open all year, usually has two or three rooms rented on a January weekday, Lerro said.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity to have a very successful day in the local establishments, which are open at this point,” Byron said. “I think it’s going to be a tremendous shot in the arm economy-wise for the local community.”
The Bolero said it would attempt to get its restaurants and bars running at full capacity, and is currently hiring additional staff to work the event.
Other year-round hotels and motels are opening, including the Day’s Inn, The Icona Diamond Beach, Montego Bay, The Quebec Motel and Star Lux, according to Lerro, who added he heard the Island Breeze would be opening specifically for Trump’s visit.
Some businesses near the Convention Center said they would be open, like the Fudge Kitchen. A Morey’s Piers spokeswoman said that they will not be opening the piers, but will light the iconic Ferris wheel during Trump’s visit.
Mack’s Pizza, located on the boardwalk, near the Convention Center, said they do not have plans to light their ovens. The owner of the Wild Burrito, a block away, said he would not be able to open because he is out of town.
There will likely be vendors setting up for the day.
Trump’s Travel Logistics
As is customary with presidential travel, specific plans are being kept secret.
Van Drew said he and the president will fly from Washington on Air Force One. No one would comment on where the plane would be landing or how Trump would get from the plane to the Convention Center.
“That may be a game-time decision. I’m sure they’ve already made up their mind, but no, they’re certainly not going to give us any kind of a prewarning,” Byron said. “There are certainly enough areas right around the Convention Center where the president could land his helicopter if he chooses.”
Cape May County Airport, in Erma, the most logical place for the president to land, sits just under seven miles from the Convention Center.
By motorcade, it would be a quick ride to Route 47, and then a straight shot into Wildwood through Rio Grande Avenue, part of which is dug up amid a major construction project.
Mayor Walker, of Bossier City, said from his experience, uncertainty is something that should be expected.
“You can anticipate that there will be a lot of things you would have liked to have known that you will not know until shortly before the event occurs. Last-minute type situations, because the president’s travel, the routes he takes, the details associated with the movement of the president are things that are not discussed openly and held very close to the vest until the last minute,” Walker said. “You can anticipate not being able to get some definitive information until the last minute. You have to be very flexible.”
Security for Event
The U.S. Secret Service will be coordinating security for the event, said Byron.
“Even though this is our town, we need to take a second step back to the Secret Service. They’re going to come in and tell us where things can be positioned, where people can and can't go," Byron said. “We do not have that footprint, as of yet. Anything people hear in the street is not based on real information; it’s just based on speculation at this point.”
Mums the word on how the logistics of securing the Convention Center and the president will be handled.
“I think we will have just about every branch of every enforcement agency there,” Van Drew said.
“For operational security reasons, the Secret Service does not discuss our protectees, protective means, methods and/or protective responsibilities,” said Secret Service spokeswoman Julia McMurray.
Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto would not comment on security measures before Trump’s visit either.
New Jersey State Police spokesman Sgt. Jeff Flynn said that state police are “working cooperatively with the U.S. Secret Service and local law enforcement to provide security for the visit by President Trump, and will have a multitude of assets on location and in the surrounding area.”
“Dress warm and be prepared to walk, because I don’t see you being able to park, at a minimum, within two blocks of the Convention Center. Parking is going to be very difficult to find,” said Byron.
A Day to Remember
Those who aren’t able to get into the Convention Center will likely be able to watch the rally on a giant screen in Fox Park, said Byron. Those monitors will be provided by the campaign or the Republican Party.
All those ticketed will not be guaranteed entry to the event.
“It is a great honor. Whether you’re a Republican, whether you’re a Democrat, whether you like the president, or whether, quite frankly, you don’t, it’s just an amazing honor to have the president of the U.S. be here,” said Van Drew.
“We don’t have all the big shots living around us, but we have the biggest shot of all coming, the president, so, I think that makes up for it,” he added.