Earlier this year, I visited Asbury Park, New Jersey, which, like Detroit, suffered a prolonged decline after enjoying a storied past. In Asbury's case, its good fortune was fueled by a seaside location and thriving music scene. Race riots, suburbanization, and competition from other shore towns ultimately drove 30+% of its population below the poverty line, and by 2000 most downtown properties were vacant and boarded up.
The Revitalization Challenge
Fast forward to today and Asbury Park is in the midst of a dramatic redevelopment, including its mile-long boardwalk area and adjacent 30+ acres. While the revitalization of Asbury Park and Detroit differ in scale, there are many similarities. These include massive infusions of money, talent, and the determination needed for sustained success, as well as a dizzying, stubborn risk of failure.
Asbury's ascent began in 2002, when the city approved a redevelopment plan, and Asbury Partners (later acquired by iStar) was named Master Developer. In 2007, Madison Marquette entered the market to develop the boardwalk and adjacent venues into a retail/entertainment nexus.
Preserving a Rich Heritage
The redevelopment plan seeks to preserve Asbury Park’s cultural richness, evident in the re-purposing of Asbury’s iconic boardwalk venues such as the Paramount Theater, the Convention Center and the rotunda shaped Howard Johnson’s beachfront restaurant. Interestingly, Madison Marquette has opted not to lease or license these venues to third party operators. Instead, it has maintained tight control over programming designed to attract a diverse audience by partnering with top tier sources of high-quality entertainment, including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and Live Nation.
iStar has been developing new residential and hospitality projects in recent years, with its sights now firmly set on completing the Asbury Ocean Club, a 17 story mixed use building that will include residential condominiums, a luxury boutique hotel and 23,000 sq. ft. of retail space. With prices for one bedroom units starting at $900,000, brisk sales of Ocean Club apartments would be a strong indicator that Asbury Park’s fortunes are changing.
Time will tell whether Madison Marquette and iStar’s vision for Asbury Park will become a reality, and we applaud both companies for taking it on.