By Donald Wittkowski
Tony Polcini, owner of Tony P’s House of Pie, knew that Ocean City’s Boardwalk reconstruction project would eventually reach his doorstep.
Monday was that day. On an overcast morning punctuated by light rain, a chain-link fence, barriers and orange signs saying “Boardwalk closed” went up in front of his pizzeria. A giant excavator, dump trucks and construction workers wearing hard hats arrived on the scene, too.
“Nobody likes it, but what can you do?” Polcini said with a shrug amid the noise of construction work getting underway just outside his business at 10th Street. “We knew it was coming. Now, it’s our turn.”
The Boardwalk is being reconstructed as part of a multiyear facelift stretching from Fifth Street to 12th Street. The final phase, which began Monday, is between 10th and 12th streets. Construction is scheduled to continue until March, requiring the closure of the Boardwalk between 10th and 12th streets until then.
Polcini, whose pizzeria has been open since 2015, watched the reconstruction project creep ever closer to his businesses as it headed down the Boardwalk over the previous two winters. The work stops during the peak summer tourism season, but resumes during the quieter fall and winter months.
Businesses located within the construction zone, like Tony P’s House of Pie, will have to adjust to the Boardwalk being closed off in front of their stores. Polcini, who has a side door that gives access to his pizzeria, said he plans to remain open during the construction, as long as his customers keep coming.
“It’s definitely going to impact business,” he said. “In the next couple of weeks, we’ll keep an eye on things and will decide how to go from there.”
Fred M. Schiavone Construction Inc., of Malaga, N.J., the Boardwalk’s construction contractor, has promised to work with businesses to try to minimize disruptions. Carlo DeFeo, a Schiavone foreman, noted that he began warning businesses a few weeks ago by handing out fliers about the project.
“We’ll all work together,” DeFeo said.
Gary Pustizzi, another Schiavone foreman, stressed that the construction company will “cater to the businesses.”
With its array of retail shops, amusement parks, restaurants and other amenities, the Boardwalk is the most heavily visited attraction in town. But the myriad walkers, runners and bikers who traverse the boards each year inevitably add to the wear and tear, requiring an overhaul from time to time. The Boardwalk’s reconstruction includes not only a new top wooden deck, but also a new substructure.
But the time the last phase of work wraps up in March, the heart of the Boardwalk between Fifth and 12th streets will have been given a $10 million facelift. The work between 10th and 12th streets will cost $2.9 million.
Schiavone has been the contractor for four of the five phases with the project. The company was able to capitalize on last February’s mild weather to complete the redecking work between Eighth and 10th streets weeks earlier than the March 2017 deadline.
The final phase between 10th and 12th streets is supposed to be completed by March 2018, but DeFeo said the city has told Schiavone that it would like to see the project finished by Presidents Day weekend in February.
“A lot will depend on the weather,” DeFeo said. “You can’t always predict the weather. But we’ll do our best. We’re going to make it happen.”
In the meantime, walkers, bikers and joggers using the Boardwalk will have to detour around the construction zone between 10th and 12th by switching to local streets.
Assuming the construction work goes according to plan, the entire 2.5-mile Boardwalk will be open from tip to tip by late winter 2018. There will also be full access again to the row of Boardwalk shops now caught in the construction zone, like Tony P’s House of Pie.
“Let’s just get the work done. We want it to finish up as soon as possible,” Polcini said.