The financial and psychological impact of not having a boardwalk has launched Belmar to advance a $20 million bond to rebuild the borough's oceanfront, officials said Monday.
"We want to be open Memorial Day," Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty said. "We're moving fast to get it done... we want to be first in line for these things."
A presentation by Doherty Monday night explained bonds, FEMA reimbursement, increased beach fees and corporate sponsorships to help cover the costs and open Memorial Day 2013. It also looked at the design of the boardwalk, from the look of the decking to the upgrade to codes.
Officials said they expect to recoup at least 75 percent of the cost of the project from FEMA. The 25 percent will be fronted by the borough, by adding to the debt service and trying to increase revenue.
'The Psychological Impact' of the boardwalk
Belmar has had a boardwalk every year since 1895, Doherty said. For the sake of the town, it needs to have one for Memorial Day 2013.
If the boardwalk rebuild doesn't happen in time, Belmar will still have beach expenses. "We still need lifeguards, still going to have to clean the beach," said the mayor. "Expenses will be substantial."
Belmar would be a sustantially different place without a boardwalk, officials said.
"People may still come to the beach," said the mayor. "Without the boardwalk it's not the same tourist."
The borough is moving aggressively to start rebuilding the boardwalk, seeing a tourism impact without the structure there, in a decreased amount of visitors.
"If you lose a customer for a year, you might as well write them off," Doherty said about keeping people coming back year after year.
"Psychologically for our town it needs to be built," said the mayor. "But for our finances we absolutely need a boardwalk."
Belmar council members supported the measures, agreeing with the importance of rebuilding the boardwalk before summer, and supporting the financial plan.
"We want to be the first in the race for the summer to get things started," Doherty said.
New boardwalk increases pilings
The boardwalk will be in the same place, the same width and the same length. But the borough is allowed to rebuild it up to current building codes, which means an upgrade in pilings.
Engineer Paul Calabrese said the old boardwalk, built or repaired throughout the 1970s-1990s, used 12-foot pilings and had no "hurricane straps."
The current code will upgrade the rebuilt boardwalk to 25-foot pilings and using the straps, which are 12-inch pieces of metal that support the decking, Calabrese said.
The 19th Avenue boardwalk used this design and is the only portion of boardwalk that thoroughly survived the storm, Calabrese said.
Calabrese said he's not worried about the category of hurricane, as that concerns the wind, whereas the boardwalk needs to survive a storm surge.
It was the massive tidewaters overtaking the beach which destroyed so much of the borough, Calabrese said. The new design needs to prepare less for wind, as the boardwalk has no roof or wall that would be destroyed by stronger category hurricanes.
"I'm designing for the storm surge," Calabrese said.
"The entire Atlantic Ocean came ashore," Doherty added.
A $20 million bond will fund the boardwalk rebuild, but Belmar expects FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of the expense.
That $20 million pays for $3 million to clean up the debris of the wrecked boardwalk, and $17 million to rebuild it, Doherty said.
That 75 percent equals a $15 million reimbursement. The remaining portion will be funded by debt service over 20 years, Doherty said. That's $367,000 in annual debt service.
Belmar also hopes to increase the cost of beach badges to offset the expense:
- Increase daily beach badge to $1. Making it $8 for adults, ages 15 under and free.
- Increase seasonal beach badge by $5.
The borough is hoping corporate sponsorships of the rebuilt bathrooms could offset the cost. In addition, Belmar is also urging donors to "buy a board," and commit to a monetary donation to the borough.
The addition of debt service payments to the beach utility portion of the borough's budget is a change to Belmar's balance sheet.
"Right now our beach utility has no debt whatsoever," Doherty said.
Councilman James Bean said he wants to see minimal impact to taxpayers if the revenue projections for 2013 falls short.
"I'm going to hold your feet to the fire on this mayor," Bean said. "Ultimately I'll vote yes."
The bond ordinance passed unanimously.
Concession income may vary widely
The borough is also assuming that income from renting boardwalk concession properties will be significantly less over 2012.
The borough is preparing to install trailers for concessions in case the businesses can't be rebuilt in time for 2013, Doherty said.
The budget is going to assume none of the concession revenue will be coming in 2013.
"We're assuming zero dollars," Doherty said. That's $111,000 in concession loss revenue.
However Belmar's budget will be shifted around for the new reality of post-Hurricane Sandy. For example, $390,000 budgeted for capital improvements each year will drop to $100,000 in annual capital improvement.
"We won't be spending on capital improvement. We'll have a new boardwalk," Doherty said.
With all these avenues of financial line items, Belmar "should see a net gain to surplus at end of 2013," Doherty said.
For the latest Hurricane Sandy coverage from Manasquan-Belmar Patch visit our topic page here.