CAPE MAY — Developer Eustice Mita unveiled plans Tuesday for a 168-room hotel on Beach Avenue, one he said would rival the grand hotels of a century ago, engulfing the site of the former Beach Theatre and other properties on the block.
Mita plans to put $100 million into the project, he said Thursday, a figure he said would put the project among the most expensive projects in the history of Cape May County.
With Dave Schultz of DAS Architects in Philadelphia, Mita presented plans for ICONA Cape May to City Council on Tuesday. If approved and built, it would join ICONA properties in Avalon, the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township and another Cape May location at 1101 Beach Ave.
“This is not the application. We’re not making any decision here tonight,” Mayor Zack Mullock said at the meeting. He indicated the project would need to go before the Planning Board, the Zoning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission.
Mita plans to submit an application within the next 60 days, he said Thursday.
As outlined to City Council, the project would cover the area from Stockton Place to Gurney Street, including the site of the former theater and the stores in front along Beach Avenue, as well as another line of shops on Gurney and a bike rental place next door.
Mita described a seven-story property with a rooftop pool and 268 parking spaces on four interior levels.
“You will not be able to see any of the parking from the street,” Mita said. It will all be valet parking, he said, with deliveries made from the inside.
Mita, of Ocean City, owns ICONA Resorts and the home construction company Achristavest. At the council meeting, he sought to paint a picture of bygone luxury, describing the project in terms of the lost elegance of the past with contemporary amenities.
Cape May was once home to unrivaled grand hotels, he said.
He described retail on the ground floor of the proposed new construction, to house restaurants, cafés and other businesses, and a ballroom on the second floor, and a restaurant with water views.
There will also be a four-story town home as part of the plan, Mita said.
The Beach Theatre dates from 1950, and was at one time considered an innovative design with a line of retail shops in front of the theater itself, according to a description at preservationnj.org.
When Frank Investments, the owners at the time, announced plans to close the theater more than a decade ago, several local advocates started the Beach Theatre Foundation in hopes of preserving the building, even renting the theater for a time in an attempt to possibly lure a developer who would keep the theater open.
The theater section of the building was demolished in 2011. The retail stores in front remain, and several are in operation, but they were briefly closed as unsafe in 2019 while the overhang at the front of the building was reinforced.
A line of steel bars still brace the structure as visitors sip coffee at outside tables.
Some residents told City Council it is time for something new at the property.
“I’m all for development of that site. It is blighted,” said neighbor George Schu. “We need something to match the elegance of Convention Hall.”
He said the proposed building would be a good match for the Cape May Convention Hall across the street, completed in 2012 at a cost of over $10 million.
But other residents raised concerns about the increased traffic and the height and size of the massive building.
Mita said the design of the property would minimize traffic and started to tell neighbor Erin Snyder, who asked about the planned height of the building, about how the property would appear from her home.
“I don’t care about where I live, I care about my whole town,” she said.
Mullock said this was the first look at the plans for most members of council. He said he and another member serve on the Planning Board, and so would not make any comments or give any opinions before the formal application, to avoid any appearance of bias.
At the council meeting, Mita described hotel rooms as a vital element of the tourism economy and spoke of other ICONA projects.
In 2019, ICONA bought the Beach Theatre property at a bankruptcy auction for $6.65 million. Mita said at the council meeting that the company had already purchased other properties included in the plan.
Contact Bill Barlow: