By Steve Plunkett
Manalapan is ramping up efforts to breathe new life into flagging Plaza Del Mar.
Daryl Cheifetz, who sits on Manalapan’s Architectural Commission, told town commissioners in December that with this year’s planned closing of the Ocean Avenue Bridge they should encourage the shopping center to find tenants that sell basic necessities. She was immediately tapped as an emissary.
For resident John Murphy, it wasn’t enough. Plaza Del Mar lost longtime tenant Florida Stage last summer and the Epicurean gourmet market the year before. Other, smaller shops are also empty.
“If you had 25 homes sitting there unoccupied, you’d be declaring it a blight area. That’s what we have,’’ Murphy told commissioners in January. “I don’t know what you can do, but we desperately need you to try and do something.’’
Adding to the plaza’s gloomy outlook are sewer rates, which are more than doubling this year. (Story
, page 8)
Michael King, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, said the higher bills would severely impact the shopping center.
“With the bridge closing and all this, it’s a perfect storm situation,’’ said King, whose hotel will pay an additional $60,000 to $70,000 for sewer service this year.
Commissioner Donald Brennan raised the specter of a run-down shopping center directly across the street from a five-star resort and said the owner likely paid only 10 percent down.
“It doesn’t take much to walk from 10 percent because probably now with market values, they’re underwater,’’ Brennan said before volunteering to go on a fact-finding mission for the town.
Commissioner Bill Bernstein said the plaza’s ownership had recently changed but the old owner’s name and number still appeared on signs, so prospective tenants were not getting phone calls returned.
“Our staff has been in constant contact with Del Mar, trying to make the town processes as quick and easy as possible for licensing and stuff like that,’’ Bernstein said. “I know that they are not unimportant to a new
business in town.’’