Gov’s head of Casino Authority says, “We can do better!!”
Restore Reportage by Host, Maureen Nevin
Convention Hall - Today it was respectable again in Asbury Park to speak of destination points and the economic value of tourism – instead of the usual mantra that the only economic alternative is to turn the ocean front into private property for a wealthy few. Curtis J. Bashaw told the packed hall that the leaders of shore towns like Asbury Park “must not become caretakers of the status quo.” Calling Asbury Park “a poignant place to hold this first summit,” Bashaw described the city as “an edifice to bygone glory, built by others, leaving us a legacy.” Acknowledging the role of preservation in development, he said, “We must let the past inform our future.” In so doing, Gov. James McGreevey’s executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) breathed new life into the faded hopes of preservationists here recently deflated by the thrashing of the Circa 1888 Carousel House.
The Authority has a mission to encourage tourism destinations in the state, said a staff member. Although the representatives were vague about exactly how much budget the CRDA actually had set aside for helping the shore’s towns with the initiative, entitled Summit on the Shore, the support for Asbury couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. This, the first in a series of three such regional conferences, was titled, “Asbury Park – the Competitive Reality”, and its basic tenets seemed to echo many of the sentiments expressed by critics of the current redevelopers’ agreement, such as the plan’s heavy reliance on high-end residential housing instead of encouraging tourism.
Curtis J. Bashaw, who holds an MBA from Wharton and owns several restored hotels in Cape May, including the Congress Hall, referred to the importance of retaining a sense of place. “We need our mini-golfs and our hot dogs, too,” he quipped. Then in a more serious tone, added, “If all this gives way for condominiums, we’ll all own homes but won’t have anything to do. We can do better!!” The audience thundered approval.
Marketing experts, builders’ groups, and tourism officials from several counties, as well as statehouse workers and cabinet members, dominated the packed crowd. Speakers, Sanford Keziah, president of Kindred Keziah, a marketing strategy firm in NYC and Boulder, Colo., and Peter C. Yesawich, chair and CEO of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a marketing firm that represents the travel industry, drove home the importance of branding and led discussions of how best to draw visitors to the shore’s communities. Yesawich presented amusing survey findings that pointed toward Americans planning vacations closer to home, due to increased debt and a subsequent combination of “Downward Nobility and Downward Mobility.” However, 65% of respondents said they’d welcome more novelty in their lives, obviously offered here to challenge the assembled to up their creative vision.
Bashaw also put his thoughts in market terms as he noted that, “To protect our beaches is to protect our core deliverable. Development trends could lose this core of our attractions.”
At one embarrassingly staged point in the program, Gov. McGreevey polled his cabinet members for their input. DEP chief Bradley Campbell chose to emphasize the department’s recent work on Wreck Pond, in Spring Lake. McGreevey also singled out local communities like Belmar’s St. Rose School, in what could be considered pandering to these largely Irish Catholic constituencies. Noticeably absent from Campbell’s comments was any mention of the lack of a full water commitment from the local water company to supply all of the planned 3164 condominiums for Asbury’s 56-acre waterfront. (Residents are starting to wonder aloud at the lack of first-phase commencement on either Kushner’s Wesley Lake condo project or the Paramount Homes’ North Shore development, since the two got green lights from the DEP’s land use section in March.) Although, the event today was held on property now owned by Asbury Partners, Convention Hall and the adjacent Paramount Theater, COO Larry Fishman didn’t make an appearance, although his brother Glenn was seen taking a seat in a shadowy section of the bleachers from where he observed the program alone.
Bashaw showed great enthusiasm for his CRDA role – explaining that McGreevey requested that he plan a Summit on the Shore just 6 weeks ago. “We have a shore brand identity here that others would kill for.” He noted that Disney showed its grasp of the value of beachfront when it built an artificial shore line. “We have a real one!”
Guests were led into tents for workshops aimed at brainstorming the most important issues and offering some strategies for tackling them. All answers, including survey responses are to be fed into a database for future action. The leaders stressed the importance of esprit de corps, of everyone rolling up their sleeves. Yesawich heralded “a new era of destination promotion.” Restore by the Shore says, Bring it on!!
Contact the CRDA at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 609-347-6305