Home Latest Stories $150 Million Luxury Hotel Proposed for Ocean City Boardwalk

$150 Million Luxury Hotel Proposed for Ocean City Boardwalk

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A conceptual rendering depicts what was proposed. (Courtesy of DAS Architects Inc.)

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

The owner of a luxury resort brand at the Jersey Shore unveiled plans Thursday night to develop a high-end hotel that would represent an epic transformation of the Ocean City Boardwalk.

Eustace Mita, chairman and chief executive officer of Icona Resorts, said his proposed hotel project would feature 325 rooms and cost upwards of $150 million to develop.

In order to build the project, Mita would need for the city to sell him what is now municipally owned land, overlooking the Boardwalk between Fifth and Sixth streets, that currently serves as a large public parking lot.

“The city-owned land would be put up for sale to the highest bidder,” Stephen Nehmad, Mita’s attorney, said if Ocean City decided to part with the property.

Moreover, City Council would have to agree to a zoning change to create a new hotel district encompassing that section of the Boardwalk. Currently, the city’s zoning laws prohibit hotel development on the Boardwalk.

“This is just the starting line. We would like to bring it over the finish line,” Mita said while stressing the preliminary nature of his project during a presentation at a Council meeting that included architectural renderings of the hotel.

Council President Pete Madden indicated in an interview after the meeting that it was premature to discuss specifics of the project at this point.

“We’re happy to see new ideas. There’s a lot to digest, a lot to follow,” Madden said. It’s in its infancy. We have an idea. We’ll watch, listen and learn.”

Meanwhile, Mita pointed to his highly acclaimed Icona Resorts properties in Avalon, Diamond Beach and Cape May at the Cape May County shore as examples of what Ocean City may expect with a new luxury hotel he would develop.

“Every aspect of design has significant attention to detail, both the interior and exterior,” Nehmad said of the Icona Resorts properties.

Mita overhauled what had been older, deteriorating hotels to transform them into what he said are among the most highly rated resorts in the country.

Icona previously purchased and renovated Avalon’s Golden Inn, Diamond Beach’s The Grand and Cape May’s Palace Hotel.

Eustace Mita, owner of Icona Resorts, gives a presentation on his proposed Ocean City hotel to City Council.

For the Ocean City project, Mita and his representatives emphasized what would be the upscale feel of the resort-style hotel. They also predicted it would rank as the top hotel at the Jersey Shore and among the nicest along the entire East Coast.

“What we want here is to create a destination,” Alvar Cortada Kosonen, one of Mita’s architects, told City Council.

Reminiscent of the grand hotels that once graced the resort towns of the New Jersey coast, the project would feature a classic design that Mita described as “old seashore” instead of boasting a flashier, more modern look.

It would also include an array of upscale retail shops and family-friendly amenities, including a swimming pool overlooking the Boardwalk.

Mita also spoke of the project’s potential to boost the Ocean City tourism market at a time when the number of hotel and motel rooms has plummeted from 3,000 to about 750 by his count.

“We haven’t had a new hotel here in over half a century,” Mita said.

He explained that some of the old hotels and motels were converted into condominiums during the boom in Ocean City’s real estate market. As a result, many of the hotel and motel rooms that once accommodated the tourists are no longer available.

“We’re eating our own livelihood,” Mita said of the negative impact that the loss of so many rooms is having on the tourism industry.

Mita, who lives in Ocean City, said his hotel and the upscale shops proposed as part of the project would draw tourists year-round because they would not close down during the quiet offseason months.

He also touted the tax benefits of having such a major development in town. He said it would immediately become the largest single tax ratable in Ocean City, producing millions of dollars in tax revenue for such things as road and infrastructure projects.

Another rendering gives an aerial view of the proposed hotel project. (Courtesy of DAS Architects Inc.)

The hotel would serve as a new anchor for the northern section of the Boardwalk between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The location would put it next to Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, the Boardwalk amusement park owned by Mayor Jay Gillian and Mita.

Mita noted that he would build the hotel separate from Wonderland Pier and without Gillian’s involvement. During an interview after the Council meeting, Gillian also stressed that Mita would develop the hotel on his own and on property that would not include Wonderland.

“It’s a beautiful presentation. But we’ve got a long road ahead,” Gillian said of the process of Mita possibly developing the hotel.

During the 2022 mayor’s election between Gillian and his opponent, former City Councilman Keith Hartzell, there were questions whether Gillian and Mita would try to develop a high-rise hotel on the Wonderland property.

Hartzell, who lost to Gillian, raised fears during the election that high-rises on the Boardwalk could dramatically alter or damage Ocean City’s family-friendly image.

During their one and only election debate in April 2022, both Gillian and Hartzell stated their opposition to the idea of high-rises in Ocean City and also said they didn’t support hotels being built on the Boardwalk.

Under Ocean City’s existing zoning laws, hotel construction is not allowed on the Boardwalk and high-rises are prohibited throughout town.

Nehmad said the city would need to change the zoning law to create a hotel district on the Boardwalk if Mita’s project is to become a reality.

The timetable for the project is still up in the air, although Nehmad said Mita would like to move ahead “as fast as possible.” In addition to needing a zoning change, Mita would also have to secure a series of regulatory approvals from different levels of government to develop the hotel.

Before he unveiled his plans for the proposed Icona Ocean City project on the Boardwalk, Mita made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the former Crown Bank building on Asbury Avenue out of bankruptcy.

Mita had planned to turn the Crown Bank building into a boutique hotel, but he was outbid for the property by Ocean City real estate investors and brothers Raj and Yogi Khatiwala.

Stephen Nehmad, an attorney representing Icona Resorts, says a zoning change would be needed by the city to allow the proposed hotel on the Boardwalk.