WILDWOOD – According to the Department of Community Affairs, Wildwood ranks as the fifth most distressed city in the state. Camden, Salem City, Atlantic City, and Bridgeton complete the list.

The Municipal Revitalization Index (MRI) determines the rankings based on eight factors. It measures aspects of social, economic, physical, and fiscal conditions.

Vacant storefronts line Pacific Avenue, although several new businesses have opened in the past year. City and county officials have joined in a collaborative agreement, focused on redeveloping the downtown area.

The agreement was passed by resolution June 26 during a City Commissioners’ meeting. According to the document, “the county (Cape May) has determined it in the best interest of the citizens of Cape May County to establish a Municipal Redevelopment Program for the purpose of assisting with the redevelopment of blighted, abandoned or disadvantaged communities within the county.”

Similar action was taken in Asbury Park and Atlantic City.

The agreement also provides a Redevelopment Advisory Committee, “in order to promote an open and transparent process.” The committee consists of eight members from various organizations, including the Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA), Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, Wildwood Planning Board, county Planning Director, and the Wildwood Business Improvement District (BID).

Freeholder Will Morey said “informal” conversations have been held with Wildwood officials since 2018, along with organizations such as GWTIDA.

In a phone interview July 4, Morey said the Atlantic County Improvement Authority (ACIA) will serve as the redevelopment entity. Since the county has no improvement authority, ACIA will fill the role. The ACIA has greater ability to work with property/business owners than county or Wildwood officials, said Morey.

The first step in the process is forming the redevelopment plan and “building confidence” in the community, he continued.

The vision for Pacific Avenue includes residential and commercial properties. Due to societal changes, having multiple city blocks of shopping is no longer viable, according to Morey.

He said the county would shoulder 80% of the costs, leaving Wildwood with 20%. According to the agreement, the county’s contribution is not to exceed $240,000. Wildwood’s part would not exceed $60,000.

Morey said the redevelopment is similar to the Tech Village at the Cape May County Airport in Erma. According to a Herald article (http://bit.ly/2RYEc8s), the Tech Village property “will house a $6.2 million, 20,000-square-foot innovation hub to encourage the evolution of emerging tech businesses that will provide sustainable, year-round jobs to residents in the region.”

According to Morey, “business relocation” is possible. If a business owner chooses to relocate along Pacific Avenue, a “centralized corridor” will take shape between residential areas.

The agreement explains another option. The ACIA would identify and recommend properties for consideration. If purchased, it would be sold to a developer who would give written consent to terms.

“Costs for acquisition, demolition, and remediation of properties shall be borne entirely by the county, except for those professional and consultant fees ... which shall by cost-shared between the county and city,” reads the agreement.

According to the terms, the “pilot program” would last for two years. Either the county or Wildwood may terminate the agreement at any time by providing 30 days’ notice and any amounts paid in full.

“I applaud the county,” said Commissioner Peter Byron July 5. Redevelopment is imperative to Wildwood moving forward, he said.

Reflecting on the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Byron said the city had a “good balance” between downtown and the Boardwalk. However, urban renewal and changing times altered Pacific Avenue.

Enticing new businesses is key, said Byron.

Byron also praised Morey and freeholders, namely Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, for their vision and commitment to Wildwood’s future success.

According to Byron, comments from the Wildwood Business Improvement District (BID) were “positive.”

When asked how the redevelopment would be funded, Byron said the city would seek grants in order to save taxpayers' money.

Resident Al Brannen said he appreciates the initiative but wishes to see a plan. Brannen said local shopping can't compete with big-box stores such as Walmart in Rio Grande, or online giants like Amazon.

Brannen said a professional developer is needed to study Wildwood.

Mayor Ernie Troiano was contacted for comment but none was given. 

To contact Rachel Rogish, email rrogish@cmcherald.com.

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