Amusement pier destroyed by fire might not return

Thursday, July 28, 2016

SEASIDE PARK, N.J. -- A historic Jersey shore pier that was pummeled by Superstorm Sandy, then destroyed in a spectacular fire might finally be done in by building regulations.

The owner of the former Funtown Pier says he won't rebuild it if the town sticks to height restrictions it imposed this week on amusement rides on a rebuilt pier. The pier was heavily damaged by Sandy in October 2012, then destroyed by a raging boardwalk fire in September 2013.

Pictured: Pictures of the September, 2013 fire on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, New Jersey.

Owner William Major says he needs thrill rides up to 300 feet tall for a rebuilt pier to work financially. But the town this week set a 100-foot limit on rides.

Barring an unexpected override of those limits by the Borough Council, Major's lawyer says, the pier will not be rebuilt, and some other use for it will be sought.

"Mr. Major is realistic but needs to have some relief so he can afford to rebuild the pier," said his attorney, Stephan Leone. "We need that height."

Rides that would exceed the 100-foot limit set Tuesday by the borough's planning board include a swing ride with a pole approaching 200 feet tall and a ride called the Tower of Fear, Leone said.

But neighbors accustomed to the former pier's lower-intensity rides have lined up to oppose the proposed thrill rides. Many said they don't want Seaside Park to become more like its neighbor to the north, Seaside Heights, which also has an amusement pier but with larger rides and, many say, a much rowdier clientele.

"Many people love to have a place where they can get that amusement feeling and flavor of the Jersey shore," Mayor Robert Matthies said. "But 300-foot thrill rides is a whole different ballgame. You come to the Jersey shore, but that doesn't mean you want to hear screams all night long."

Pictured: Pictures of the September, 2013 fire on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, New Jersey.

Matthies researched amusement rides along the Jersey shore and found that most are 100 feet tall or less - and have been thriving for decades.

Linda Talbot, a longtime visitor from Toms River, wants the pier rebuilt the way it was.

"It was cool for the little kids, more than over there," she said, gesturing toward Casino Pier in nearby Seaside Heights. That was where the Jet Star roller coaster plunged into the ocean during Sandy, providing one of the most enduring images of the storm's destruction.

"I like it the way it was before," added Tom Kuchinos, of Allentown, Pennsylvania. "We used to come down here every year until the hurricane and the fire hit."

The borough council will consider the height rules approved by the planning board, but it shows little enthusiasm for overriding them, Seaside Park officials said.

Major operates a private beach on the sand where the pier once stood and would consider other uses for the land, such as a beach club or water recreation that would provide less revenue to the borough, Leone said.

"Do you want an economic engine at the south end of the boardwalk that brings people into town, fills the restaurants and the motels and gives amusement to the entire boardwalk area?" Leone asked.