Brick officials are still awaiting a state agency to approve a plan to build a restaurant and beach bar at Traders Cove Marina and Park, but the company that had sought to construct and run the establishment has – at least for now – backed off.
It has been more than two years since the township council approved an agreement with Chefs International to build what was described at the time as a luxurious, outdoor beach bar and restaurant complete with fire pits and dock-and-dine space. The company, which operates a similar bar at a municipally-owned marina in Belmar, was to pay Brick $75,000 per year in annual rent, which would escalate by 2 percent each year over 24 years. The restaurant would have been an additional source of revenue for Traders Cove, for which taxpayers still owe $15 million in debt service.
The plan to use the space was required to be submitted to the state’s Green Acres program, a part of the Department of Environmental Protection, for approval because Green Acres funding was used to purchase Traders Cove and develop it into a park. Because the establishment would have modified what is now park space, the state was required to sign off on the plan. To date, the state has not approved it, and has instead sent Brick officials a list of requirements they would like to see in place.
“It’s still pending before Green Acres,” said Mayor John Ducey. “Chefs International has taken a step back, though.”
Among the state’s suggestions to Brick was to modify the lease agreement to bring it down from 24 years to just five years, the state’s maximum. The township, however, could appeal to the agency to allow the 24-year lease if there is “good cause” based on projected revenues and expenses. The agency also requested that Brick, in addition to rent, collect a percentage of the revenue generated by the restaurant, a sticking point for both parties.
“They’d have to open their books,” said Ducey, expressing his own concerns about government essentially going into business with a private entity.
The DEP also asked for the lease agreement to include language stating that the restaurant space itself and its restroom facilities would be open to the public, and make the lessee pay for certain electrical connections at the site. The agreement would also have to specify that the establishment would be a park “amenity” rather than a “stand-alone destination.”
While the bar and restaurant seemed to draw widespread public support, including from the owner of Barnegat Bay Marina, across the street, which is planning its own bar and restaurant, environmentalists cried foul. The group Save Barnegat Bay, which has previously sued Brick over separate Traders Cove issues, was the loudest objector, saying the plan would take away bayfront park space. Supporters have countered that a bar and restaurant would be an additional attraction to draw people to the park and enjoy the waterfront views.
The DEP, last summer, operated its own outdoor bar at Island Beach State Park.
Ducey said the township remains in favor of a bar and restaurant at the park, but it is unknown if Chefs International will be its partner.