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Owner considers building hotel on site of Cape May's Beach Theatre
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Owner considers building hotel on site of Cape May's Beach Theatre

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The Beach Theatre in Cape May

CAPE MAY — The owner of the city’s last remaining movie theater is considering building an upscale “boutique hotel” that would complement the new $10.5 million convention center the city is building on the oceanfront.

The boutique hotel idea first came from a preservation group trying to save the Beach Theatre on Beach Avenue from demolition. The Beach Theatre Foundation, however, wanted the hotel only as a way to support saving the movie house.

But movies have not turned a profit in recent years and Frank Investments, Inc., which owns the theater, had planned to tear the theater down and construct condominiums.

Company President Bruce Frank on Friday said he still plans to tear down the theater but now will look into the hotel idea. Frank said he wants to do something good for business but also good for the city. Frank said the movie theater just “didn’t make it.”

“The most promising idea for Cape May is a boutique hotel on the property. The plan would be to go vertical. The city would have to decide how many stories,” Frank said.

Demolition plans for the theater are finished, Frank said, and should be filed with the city by the middle of August. Demolition is not allowed in the city during the summer tourist season but is allowed after Labor Day.

“I expect some time in the second week of September we’ll be able to do it. We got rid of asbestos two years ago,” Frank said.

Frank Investments already has approval for condominiums, but Frank said that project is in limbo.

“We have no expectations or thoughts of moving forward at this time on the approved plan,” Frank said.

After the demolition, the lot could be covered in stone and used temporarily for parking, he said.

Steve Jackson, president of the Beach Theatre Foundation, was not surprised condominiums might not be constructed. Jackson said condominiums are not selling right now, but a hotel may work next to the new convention center. The foundation at one point hoped to attract investors to buy the theater and was using the hotel idea as bait.

“That was our idea with one big difference. We were going to have a theater in the complex,” Jackson said.

The foundation lost a significant court ruling earlier this month when it tried to intervene in a lawsuit to stop the pending demolition. The lawsuit had originally been between the city and Frank Investments, but the case had been settled with the city agreeing to allow demolition.

Judge Valerie Armstrong ruled the foundation did not have the standing to intervene, which Jackson said was a sad day for preservation groups everywhere.

“The judge ruled it was a private matter between a municipality and a property owner. The judge said a third-party preservation group can’t intervene because it’s not in the public’s interest. It means preservation groups have no power. It is what it is. It’s sad what it is. I don’t know how she came to the conclusion but, c’est la vie (that’s life), she did,” Jackson said.

The foundation could still appeal the ruling, and Jackson said there is still a chance of finding an investor to buy the theater, but he noted time and money are running out.

“Once the appeal window is over, we have no options. We haven’t put up a white flag yet, but we’re a lot closer to that,” Jackson said.

The foundation still has a pending lawsuit with Frank Investments, but that is only over money issues from when the foundation leased the theater from the owner.

Parking could emerge as an issue for a hotel. Frank Investments did have parking spaces for the condominium plan but more would be needed for a hotel. Frank said it might be possible to park off site and use a trolley to get to the hotel.

“Parking is what the city needs to look at as a city,” Frank said.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

RDegener@pressofac.com

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