Design consensus near on Long Branch pier

Recommended design calls for music, wedding venues, retail/restaurant mix

Staff Writer

 Consultants recommend that Long Branch choose this shaped scheme design for the new ocean pier. Consultants recommend that Long Branch choose this shaped scheme design for the new ocean pier. LONG BRANCH — A design for the proposed $125 million ocean pier is expected to be selected before year’s end based on the recommendation of consultants .

While the City Council did not take action during the Nov. 3 special meeting about the pier, Business Administration Howard Woolley Jr. predicted that a design decision would be made within the next 30-45 days based on the recommendation of AKRF, an environmental planning and engineering consulting firm based in Mount Laurel.

AKRF, hired by McLaren Engineering Group, the lead design team for the pier, completed an economic feasibility study for the three proposed pier designs. The firm presented the council with the results during the special meeting where the angular design termed “shaped scheme” was the choice of the consultants.

“We were really looking at who might be attracted to this type of facility and is there enough business out there to warrant it,” Peter Liebowitz, vice president of AKRF, said. “We are not going to capture every dollar; we just want to make sure there are enough dollars out there.”

Consultants also suggested increasing the pier’s leased commercial space.

“The goal is to capture more space and have that space bring more visitors and drive down the remaining cost of the pier, based on how much these leases can generate,” said Ralph Basile, a financial adviser with BBP and Associates.

Although the curving “pod-andpathway” design was viewed as the most popular among city officials, AKRF representatives said that design is not economically viable and would be more difficult to get permits for than the other proposed designs.

AKRF Project Manager Keith Rowan said the projected cost of the shapedscheme pier, which will be located adjacent to Pier Village, is about $54 million for the amenities, which include retail, restaurants, event space, a public winter garden, outdoor amphitheater, entertainment space, fishing area and a children’s play area.

Malcolm McLaren, president of the design firm, told the council it would cost another $70 million for the base structure and ferry terminal, which is included in all three designs including the “conventional” pier design.

Funds allocated for tenant improvements, which would include alterations to retail space, are included in the $54 million price tag, but would be absorbed by the future tenants of the pier.

Rowan said that consultants concluded that the commercial space could actually be expanded.

“Based on the market analysis and looking at the demographics and spending patterns, we suggested expansion by 25,000 square feet from the original,” he said.

The new design includes about 77,000 square feet of commercial space, and Rowan said that after speaking with pier operators in other cities, there are some commonalities.

“They all have unique offerings for where they are, with amusements, restaurants and entertainment components,” Rowan said.

One amenity that was added to the original plan is a 20,000-square-foot club that could host concerts year-round.

“One of the major changes through our research was there is a big demand for music-type venues in restaurants,” Rowan said .

He also said a 10,000-square-foot wedding venue was added to the pier design.

Rowan described the family entertainment component of the pier.

“For family entertainment we allocated 10,000 square feet,” he said. “We … believe it should be some kind of educational, hands-on use that will appeal to families with children.”

Rowan said the plan calls for less retail space than originally planned largely because of the already established retail locations in Pier Village.

He also said that some of the proposed pier uses would help prevent the pier from being just a seasonal destination.

“We want to mitigate seasonality, we want the uses to be more year-round,” Rowan said. “With the music club and the family and event space you are starting to get more use.”

Basile said the planners didn’t want to add too much to the commercial space to ensure that the pier would be economically viable.

“What they were trying to do is figure out how much space could the market support,” he said.

“We felt really comfortable that a 50 percent increase in the total amount of commercial [space] could be justified in this economic market.”

Basile also said the expansion would be limited to avoid permitting problems.

“We are going to have challenges with the basic pier as it is from the permitting authorities,” he said. “So the first thing is, let’s not add any more commercial space that causes the pier width to increase to make this challenge even bigger.”

Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider said at the meeting that the city anticipates the permitting process is going to take time.

“We thought from day one working through the state was going to be an 18- month process,” he said. “While we are going through that, we are going to look for funding.”

Councilwoman Mary Jane Celli expressed concern over parking issues that the pier may produce, especially since there already are parking issues in the area from Pier Village.

Schneider said a parking deck was always part of the plan for the pier.

“The theory has always been that during the week the commuters are going to bring cars and fill the deck, and on the weekend the beachgoers and everybody else would use the deck,” he said.

Liebowitz said that he has met with local business leaders, visitors to Pier Village and state and county officials to produce a demographic and report on the potential market for amenities on the pier.

He said that study concluded that twothirds of the potential market for pier amenities would come from within New Jersey with remaining customers coming from the New York City and Philadelphia markets.

He also said that about 40 percent of visitors to the city currently come during the three summer months and approximately 35 percent come during the winter months with the remaining visitors coming during fall and spring.