What makes the Jersey Shore attractive to millions of visitors every summer could prove to be its worst enemy over time.
The sea is rising and projections show it could climb 31 inches by 2050. That poses a threat to the Garden State’s $38 billion-plus tourism industry — fueled largely by the vulnerable Jersey Shore — and the taxpayers and businesses that benefit from it.
As tourism officials hope to put Sandy in the rearview mirror this summer, a Massachusetts planning and design firm hopes the superstorm will convince some of the state’s hotspots to widen tourists’ appeal beyond the beachfront.
The potential for more harsh storms and sea level rise forces a need for better promotion of what else the state has to offer and also new attractions off the beach, said Jason Hellendrung, principal of Sasaki Associates in Watertown, Mass.
“No one paid that close attention until Sandy. That was a wake-up call,” Hellendrunbg told the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/1fNjORa). “New Jersey’s tourism industry, it’s a plus-or-minus $30 billion number, so how can we grow it so, if or when we see another storm in the future, we don’t take another crippling blow?”
The state stands to lose $526.6 million in annual tax revenue if, as predicted, the sea level rises 31 inches by 2050, Hellendrung said.
Just one foot of sea level rise could swallow 43,823 acres from Sandy Hook to Long Branch and Point Pleasant Beach to Beach Haven — the points they considered the most vulnerable — and with it would cause $13.77 billion in assessed property value to disappear, Hellendrung said.
Sasaki Associates came to New Jersey as part of Rebuild By Design, a competitive initiative backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that aims to promote resilience with innovative planning and design.
Ten teams, including Sasaki, were selected to combine research with public input to establish design opportunities that will be considered and, if selected, financed through federal disaster recovery funds.
Sasaki Associates is focusing on tourism in Ocean County because so many of its beach towns were shattered by Sandy’s surges; the county also boasts the third most tourism dollars annually in New Jersey.
Ocean County made $4.2 billion in tourism-related revenue in 2012, falling behind only Cape May County at $5.2 billion and Atlantic County at $7.6 billion, according to the state’s annual tourism report. Monmouth sits in fourth in tourism revenue, with $2 billion in 2012.
In Ocean County, Sasaki Associates has been looking for ways to link the already popular beaches with visitor areas on the mainland, such as a water taxi on the bay or bike lanes on a bridge to the barrier island. Paired with better promotion of places to visit, such as a county park like Cattus Island, people can begin to imagine what opportunities exist beyond the shore and ultimately extend or alter their beach visit, not cancel it, Hellendrung said.
With even more progress since the storm, tourism officials such as Robert Hilton, executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, have confidence in a strong summer season.
“If we have good weather, I think we have the makings for one of the best summers we have ever had,” he said.
Hilton said he has believed for years there is more to the Shore for visitors, such as musical performances, historical tours and art exhibits, but they need more attention to catch a wider interest. Building tourism also would require new hotels, particularly boutique hotels and convention centers, he said.
Sasaki showcased its plans to dozens of residents in Asbury Park this week. Taking over a portion of the ShowRoommovie theater, the planners described their outlook for the region to an overflow crowd that had to be split into two sessions because of the potential for fire code violations.
“Unfortunately, there’s always going to be another storm,” said Tony MacDonald, director of Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute, as he sat waiting for the presentation to begin. “Everyone is really focused on the recovery efforts, but this also provides a really good opportunity to plan for the future.”
Helen Henderson, a program manager of the environmental organization American Littoral Society, agrees with the idea of expanding the Jersey Shore’s marketing campaign. She notes that some of her favorite things to do in Ocean County, such as horseback riding at Double Trouble State Park or trekking Barnegat Branch Rail Trail, are largely unknown.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to have to be a culture change as well,” she said.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com