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Grand hotel plan shows Cape May’s still got it

Grand hotel plan shows Cape May’s still got it

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Icona Resorts hotel plan for Cape May

An architect’s rendering of the entrance to the grand hotel Icona Resorts proposes to build on Beach Avenue in Cape May.

The Jersey Shore is a thriving Mid-Atlantic resort area that attracts spectacular oceanfront developments. One proposed last month would bring this welcome wow factor to Victorian Cape May.

Icona Resorts wants to build a modern version of the grand hotels that made the shore an international destination more than a century ago. The seven-story, 168-room hotel would reign on Beach Avenue across the street from the modern Cape May Convention Hall and four blocks from the elegant Congress Hall hotel built in 1816.

It would, of course, have a restaurant with ocean views, a rooftop pool, a ballroom, and retail space available on the first floor facing Beach Avenue. The $100 million in new construction — in a style by DAS Architects in Philadelphia that’s quite compatible with the city’s famous Victorian look — would be where the dilapidated former Beach Theatre and some shops now stand.

Parking, long a problem in the city, would be cleanly accommodated by 268 spaces on four interior levels, all handled by valet service.

Icona Resorts has an excellent record of creating signature properties along the Jersey Shore. Owned by Eustice Mita of Ocean City, who also has the home construction company Achristavest, Icona has developed high-end properties in Avalon, the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township and at another Cape May location farther north on Beach Avenue.

A project of this magnitude, of course, will need the approval of the city’s Planning Board, Zoning Board and Historic Preservation Commission. We expect residents and businesses to express a mix of reactions — some thrilled to have such a memorable addition and boost to Cape May’s tourism economy, some worried about the scale of the hotel and the traffic it would add.

The hotel would continue the widespread trend throughout America of development in zones at flood-and-storm risk. A few thoughts on that.

Cape May already is fully developed, and if a project meets current state and federal requirements (making lower floors internal parking reminds us of typical European construction in such zones), it should be OK on that score. Arguments for greater state and federal oceanfront restrictions are welcome, but today’s projects can’t be required to meet some imagined future rules.

Whatever risk there is in the hotel’s proximity to the ocean (and it’s not nearly as close as the convention center), most of that risk would seem to be borne by the owners and their insurance.

Finally, it is becoming clearer that the appropriate, cost-effective response to living at the shore will be adaptations that reduce flooding and protect buildings. If anything, the existence of projects such as this grand hotel probably will help build the support needed to move forward with massive flood and storm mitigation works.

That still leaves much for the people of Cape May City and their representatives to decide. We’re confident that they’ll make the decision appropriate for them. Whether it’s built or not, this proposal is surely a sign of great confidence in the Jersey Shore’s southernmost resort city.

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