By Donald Wittkowski
Some Jersey Shore towns use their water towers as a whimsical canvas to promote themselves or feature their iconic landmarks.
In Longport, a huge smiley face peers out over the town on one side of the water tower and the words, “The Best Port: Longport” are inscribed on the other side.
Margate’s water tower is adorned with an image of Lucy the Elephant, the gigantic wooden pachyderm that started as a real estate gimmick in 1881 and has since become the town’s signature tourist attraction.
Sea Isle’s water tower cheers people up with the sentiment, “Smile … You’re in Sea Isle City.”
In Ocean City, though, the water tower that overlooks the main gateway into town is, well, pretty boring. In a business-like tone, it declares, “Welcome: Ocean City, N.J.”
Mayor Jay Gillian called it “blah,” while one City Council member described it as “kind of bland.”
Those observations were made during a discussion at the June 22 City Council meeting about ways that the water tower might be jazzed up to create a better impression for visitors arriving on the Ninth Street corridor, the city’s primary entryway.
Gillian, however, pointed out that the city doesn’t own the water tower, so it simply can’t repaint it. The 132-foot tower, a fixture at Eight Street and Haven Avenue since 1958, belongs to New Jersey American Water Co., the city’s water provider.
The mayor noted that the last time the structure was repainted, a decision was made to give the water tower a more traditional, old-fashioned look.
“As blah as it might look, people love it,” Gillian said.
Denise Venuti Free, a spokeswoman for New Jersey American Water, confirmed that the town agreed to the “Welcome: Ocean City, N.J.” design when the tower was last painted in 2009.
She said the spherical tower isn’t scheduled to be repainted and rehabilitated by the water company for the next 10 to 20 years.
“At that time, we will be happy to work with the town on a mutually agreeable design, as we do with all of our tanks,” Venuti Free said in an email.
But she also said New Jersey American Water would be open to repainting the tower sooner than that if Ocean City would pay the estimated $60,000 to $100,000 cost.
“Our policy is that if a town wants to change the logo or design of a tank before we are scheduled to rehabilitate it, the town would need to pay for it,” she said. “The cost of repainting the tank, which includes the significant costs of safety and scaffolding equipment and containment, is estimated to be between $60,000 and $100,000.”
The discussion about the water tower during last week’s Council meeting began when local resident Kim Davies told city officials that she believes Ocean City is missing out on an opportunity to make a better impression on visitors as they enter town on the Ninth Street corridor. She suggested that the tower should be given a playful new look, perhaps one that would feature flip-flops or some other seashore-themed image.
In response to Davies’ comments, Councilwoman Karen Bergman noted that the neighboring towns of Longport and Margate have both dressed up their water towers, so Ocean City should consider doing the same thing.
“Ours is kind of bland,” Bergman said. “I would like to see us do something with that.”
Councilman Michael DeVlieger proposed having a city contest to generate ideas from the public for repainting the water tower.
“It’s a neat canvas to work with,” DeVlieger said.