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Demonstrators support the Northfield Police Department on Tuesday outside City Hall.

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Borgata to reopen July 26

ATLANTIC CITY — Almost three weeks after eight of the resort’s casinos reopened to the public, the market leader is ready to join the welcome-back party.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa will reopen at 10 a.m. July 26, after hosting invited guests for three days.

Atlantic City’s casinos were permitted to resume operations July 2, following a nearly four-month industry-wide closure due to the coronavirus.

Borgata, an MGM Resorts International property, originally planned to reopen July 6. But, two days before Atlantic City casinos were set to reopen, Gov. Phil Murphy reversed course on permitting indoor dining to resume. As a result, Borgata put the brakes on a reopening plan.

“Following the governor’s directive to postpone indoor dining, we took a step back to reassess our reopening date to ensure we could give our guests the world-class experience they expect from us, safely,” Melonie Johnson, president and chief operating officer of Borgata, said in a statement Tuesday, adding, “We appreciate our guests’ and employees’ patience and understanding and look forward to welcoming them back.”

The casino will adhere to state mandates concerning masks, 25% gaming floor capacity and social distancing at slot machines and table games. The state also prohibited smoking, eating or drinking on the casino floor.

Borgata said it expects to bring back about 40% of its employees for the first phase of reopening.

The Water Club, an adjoining nongaming hotel, will not reopen when Borgata does later this month.

Several outdoor locations at the Water Club will be utilized to create additional food and beverage options for guests. Additional outdoor options will include Street Eats food and beer trucks as well as the existing beer garden.

Guests will be able to order room service or takeout from multiple restaurants, such as Old Homestead Steak House, Noodles of the World and Bread + Butter.

The self-parking garage will be open, but the surface parking lot and valet will be closed until further notice.

Murphy ordered all nine of Atlantic City’s closed March 16, resulting in the industry’s longest shutdown since gaming was first introduced to the resort in 1978.

GALLERY: Atlantic City casinos reopen after COVID-19 shutdown

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Some shore towns block off streets for restaurants to help them during summer season

It has been a month since Gov. Phil Murphy allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining. With the rules put in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19, ingenuity and sometimes unlikely partnerships have been the keys to a taste of success for Jersey Shore establishments.

Municipalities have played their part by closing down streets and allowing shore establishments to expand dining areas onto boardwalks and sidewalks. And restaurants have found ways to dress up their outdoor spaces, all in an effort to give diners an experience to remember.

“We’re in a time now where people have to be very creative, especially businesses,” said Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman. “It’s a time where government and businesses have to work together and be creative for the best results.”

Officials seem to be embracing their role.

“We need to help those businesses stay alive,” Margate Mayor Mike Becker said. “I don’t want to open up next spring and have businesses gone because of something that we didn’t do.”

Becker said the feedback has been great, saying some people have told him that offering more outdoor dining has changed the character of the city.

Maria Gatta, owner of Red Room Café in Ventnor Heights, agrees. Ventnor officials closed down a piece of Monmouth Avenue so Red Room could expand its outdoor dining.

Gatta said the outdoor dining — albeit the only option for the moment — has been so popular she’d like to see it every year.

“I like the outdoor seating better,” she said. “There is just a different vibe being outside. It’s calming. It’s peaceful. It’s relaxing. I think people feel more comfortable being outside than inside. They’re pleasantly surprised.”

She said some customers worry about getting too hot, but they get over it once they sit down. But even with the heat and rain, she said the restaurant, and the customers, make the best of the situation.

“Where we are on Dorset Avenue, we’re right across the street from the bay,” Gatta said. “Last week there was a full moon, so it was high tide. I was joking around with a customer saying, ‘You didn’t know you were having dinner in Venice.’ I try to make light of the situation, and everyone was fine.”

In Wildwood, city officials closed Pacific Avenue between Schellenger and Spencer avenues to vehicle traffic so bars and restaurants could put more tables outside.

The Cattle n’ Clover — an Irish pub at Pacific and Spicer avenues, has little to no outdoor space for seating, except for a small outdoor courtyard it shares with a neighboring Italian restaurant.

“I thought it was necessary. I was grateful,” Karen Carpinelli, manager at the pub, said of the street closing. “We’re one of the properties that don’t have a parking lot to take advantage of, or an expansive sidewalk. It was pretty crucial to us that we get that.”

She said if not for street expansion, Cattle n’ Clover would only have room for four tables outside. It now has about 15 tables on the pavement and a bar in the outdoor courtyard.

Carpinelli said without the outside bar and people wanting to dine outside, the restaurant would fold.

And while the city’s efforts have helped, there are still challenges.

“I can pay the kitchen (staff), but I’m not putting up new lights and I’m not fixing the freezer,” she said. “I’m super worried. Every day is different, and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Customers can still purchase a drink at the bar inside, while wearing a mask, but must bring the drink outside, but that has also been a challenge.

“It’s allowed, but who’s policing that? What’s the monitoring of that?” Carpinelli said. “We have regulars in there chatting for five minutes or whatever, it’s a really hairy situation. That’s where it gets nerve-racking. I’ll look in there and there’s 40 people and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to hoard them out. How do I do this?’”

Down the street at Castaway’s Pirate Bar, which is all outdoors, there are 45 additional tables — 6 feet apart — and hand sanitizer stations throughout. The bar is one of the only establishments on the closed portion of the street that has a parking lot.

When the city was discussing closing down a portion of the street, Tom Gerace, owner of Castaway’s, wasn’t exactly sold on the idea.

“But as soon as they did it, I saw a lot more business come into here,” he said. “The city’s been very, very cooperative about it and very pro-business about it.”

The closed portion of Pacific Avenue will remain closed until Labor Day, Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said.

Aside from helping restaurants dotted throughout the city, Wildwood officials also helped sit-down restaurants on the Boardwalk.

Boardwalk restaurants can now place tables in front of their storefront up to a foot from the concrete strips the popular tram cars navigate.

“We want to try to give everybody the best opportunity to be as successful as they can during these uncharted times,” Byron said. “Does it alleviate all of their problems? It doesn’t even come close, but it’s better than nothing.”

In Margate, the city closed a portion of Essex Avenue so Bocca Coal Fired Bistro could put tables in the street.

“It’s nice to get support back from the city that we try to support all year round,” said Lauryn Freedman, general manager of Bocca. “We were super excited because we don’t have that much outdoor space to begin with. It was going to be disastrous for us this summer if we didn’t have those extra tables.”

And the city closing a portion of Essex Avenue for the restaurant may have been its saving grace.

“We may possibly have had to close down. I don’t know if we would have made it,” Freedman said. “We’re open year-round, but (the summer) is really our time to make money.”

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High school baseball players finally get their moment with Last Dance tournament

OCEAN CITY — Most of the high school players on the field for the Last Dance World Series tournament Tuesday had played few — if any — competitive games since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March.

It didn’t take long for players and fans to get back into the swing of things.

The crowd behind the backstop at Ocean City’s field on Bay Avenue quickly reacted to a pitch in the first inning of a match-up between Triple Crown Sports of Egg Harbor Township and Mainland Regional.

The umpire called the pitch a ball. The crowd felt differently.

“Doesn’t get better than that,” a lady shouted of the pitch.

In a way, high school sports made its first return with the Last Dance tournament. The name of the event says it all. The virus wiped out the spring sports season.

The Last Dance gives the state’s high school baseball teams, and especially the graduated seniors, one last chance to play together. The event was organized by coaches around the state and features more than 200 teams playing this week at multiple New Jersey locations.

Ocean City hosted three games Tuesday. Three games will also be played Wednesday and Thursday at Ocean City.

Ocean City coach Andrew Bristol was at the field early Tuesday. He operated the scoreboard for the first few innings of the Triple Crown/Mainland game before preparing for Ocean City’s game at 4 p.m.

“I wanted to do anything I could to get these kids some baseball games,” he said. “I’m ecstatic I’m out here. I’ve forgotten that we missed all those months now. Now, we’re playing and you can just feel it. I’ve got goosebumps and butterflies in my stomach. It’s like a real high school game.”

The Last Dance took precautions to protect against the virus. The umpire called balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound. A trainer took players’ temperatures before they entered the dugout.

Anyone with a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees could not participate. Players also had to present paperwork that said they had not been exposed to the virus, experienced any symptoms or recently visited any of the 22 states on New Jersey’s travel advisory list.

Most of the fans either wore masks or stayed together with family and tried to keep their distance from each other.

Egg Harbor Township High School track and field coach Ryan Smith sat in left field and watched the action with his two sons, Clayton, 6, and Bennett, 4.

Clayton chased down a first-inning home run that was lined over the left field fence by Dave Appolonia of Triple Crown Sports.

“These kids love live sports,” Smith said of his sons. “They’ve been going to EHT sports since they were born. My sons didn’t really understand. They kept saying, ‘When are we going to an EHT baseball game?’ Today was finally that day.”

Triple Crown/EHT beat Mainland 7-0. In the end, the result of the game mattered, but it wasn’t what was important.

It was more about the players and teams being together.

Winning pitcher Sean Duffy drove across the Ninth Street causeway to Ocean City with a Travis Scott song blaring from his car radio. Duffy graduated from EHT last month.

“I was looking over the bay, and I was like, ‘This is awesome,’” Duffy said. “I was just thinking to myself I’m so blessed to be able to do this. I’m really glad this got put together, so I can (pitch) one last time with everybody.”

GALLERY: Last Dance Tournament starts in Ocean City

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Egg Harbor Township considering regulating short-term rentals

Pat Cocozza, who has lived in Egg Harbor Township for 24 years, saw a threat to her way of life in her Reserve neighborhood and decided to do something about it.

Cocozza, 66, realized some single-family houses in the township were accommodating online vacation rental companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo, and that the township was not regulating them.

On Wednesday, the Township Committee will consider an ordinance, spearheaded by Cocozza, to regulate short-term rentals of residential properties.

“I understand people want to go on vacation. That’s why there are hotels, motels, time shares and condominiums,” said Cocozza, who added short-term rentals can change the dynamic of a neighborhood. “There are 152 houses in our neighborhood. ... Lots of people in the development have young children.”

Usually, there are two or three dozen properties scattered throughout the township that are available for rent through online rental companies, township Administrator Peter J. Miller said.

Cocozza appeared during a committee meeting in March with a petition signed by 53 of her neighbors seeking short-term rental regulations. She also gave photocopies of advertisements of township properties for rent to Miller.

“Please sign this petition to help be a part of this important movement to stop transient rentals where they do not belong,” the petition’s introduction read. “If it is not regulated, let’s face it, Egg Harbor Township will soon be full of nightly rentals since it’s lucrative for the absent owners, who want to turn a profit on their second homes.”

The ordinance prohibits short-term rental properties from being rented for a period of 30 days or less, but there are exceptions for certain neighborhoods and times of the year.

A minimum rental of seven days — not a weekend — will be permitted in the West Atlantic City section of the township as well as the neighborhoods of Anchorage Poynte and Seaview Harbor from May 15 through Oct. 15.

Violations of any provisions of the ordinance shall be punishable by a minimum fine of $100 or a maximum fine of $2,000, or by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 90 days or by a period of community service not exceeding 90 days.

The issue is not new for Egg Harbor Township. Miller said it came up among members of the committee in 2016 and 2018.

“It was never a crisis. It was never a burning issue,” said Miller, who added Committeeman Joe Cafero had brought up the concept previously.

Some South Jersey shore towns have already passed ordinances to deal with short-terms rentals before and separate from temporary resolutions barring them to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Officials in Ventnor passed an ordinance that requires any hosts renting their homes for 30 days or less to apply for a mercantile license and pay a $100 fee. The license treats the properties more like a business.

Linwood City Council amended a zoning ordinance in September 2018 to ban Airbnb-style short-term rentals in the city. Short term was defined in the ordinance as less than 30 days.

How South Jersey towns regulate Airbnb rentals

While many visitors may find it easier to navigate shore rentals with the recent growth of online platforms, city officials have run into issues with properties that create a “party-style” atmosphere, racking up noise complaints and code violations.

In Ocean City, which also chose to require a mercantile license for renters in June 2017, short-term rentals are required to submit to safety inspections of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, and to pay a one-time annual fee of $145 toward the Ocean City Tourism Development Commission.

New regulations for short-term rental properties were adopted by Atlantic City in March, which officials believed would allow for greater local control.

The ordinance enacts a $1 per day promotional fee that will go toward the city’s Special Events Department, a tax of 3% that is equal to the total rental fee, and requires operators to provide guests with published standards of conduct and information about local laws.

Egg Harbor Township Committee holds its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Community Center at 5045 English Creek Ave.