ASBURY PARK, N.J. — In the Jersey shore city that gave Bruce Springsteen’s debut album its name, owners of the first new hotel to open there in more than 50 years hope they can convince locals and tourists alike that what was once considered a slum by the sea is now a destination with a bright future.
Designer Anda Andrei and hotel operator David Bowd have transformed the vacant Salvation Army Retired Officers Home into The Asbury, a 110-room hotel that will permit guests to check in at any time of day, for accommodations ranging from ocean view suites to rooms featuring bunk beds that can sleep up to eight.
The company has spent about $46 million on the property, which had an outstanding judgment of $8.5 million against the previous owners at the time of foreclosure.
From the ground floor to the roof, the hotel offers options for the spectrum of Asbury Park’s diverse visitors, whom Bowd calls “a melting pot” of young, old, artists, musicians and gays.
Previous rebuilding attempts in Asbury Park – made famous by Springsteen’s 1973 album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” – have seen grand ideas and great expectations collapse because of shallow pockets in economic downturns. But iStar Inc., which is developing the hotel and beachfront, believes it has a long-term strategy.
“It’s all part of elevating the customer experience and trying to make the waterfront great,” said senior vice-president Brian Cheripka. “You have this eclectic community. This urban vibe. This little city by the sea, and there’s this opportunity to get it right.”
The beach has been drawing crowds since the late 1800s, and the city once boasted as many as 100 hotels and 600,000 annual visitors, said Asbury Park Historical Society president Don Stine.
Its popularity started to wane in the 1960s, when the development of the Garden State Parkway, a highway that runs the length of the state, opened access to other shore towns and a mall drew customers away from the shopping district. That, in tandem with a race riot in 1970, had Asbury withering away, with seagulls outnumbering humans on the beaches and many hotels being boarded up or becoming de facto homes for the deinstitutionalized, who wandered the streets and boardwalk through the 1980s.
Back then, the city seemed grey and depressing even on a sunny day.
“There was more demolition than construction, especially at the beachfront,” Stine said. “You had to have faith Asbury would come back, and I think we’re into a great revival of the seashore resort’s prime real estate,” he said.
The revival began with spurts of development in the 1990s and early 2000s, initially fueled by gays seeking a cheaper alternative to New York’s Hamptons and Fire Island. Developers built condominiums and rejuvenated downtown storefronts, which sold or rented for less than other oceanfront towns.
A range of restaurants opened, and a series of annual festivals drew patrons to the city’s two major hotels.
The food is one of the reasons Madeleine Berk, of Miami, loves Asbury. When she’s up from Florida, she hits the restaurants with friends before attending concerts throughout the year.
Candy Cohen travels frequently to Asbury from her home in Englewood, Florida, for the music scene and to support the Light of Day Foundation concerts, which raise money for research into Parkinson’s disease, and often feature surprise Springsteen performances. The self-proclaimed “honorary Jersey girl” has previously chosen her hotel based on its proximity to the concert venue.
She said she was excited about the new hotel, which is across from Convention Hall and several blocks from The Stone Pony bar and club.
For the new hotel’s designer, the goal was to be the “centre of gravity” in the town. “The magic of this is fun, creating a true adult camp,” Andrei said.