Atlantic City Press
Grand plans for Diamond Beach
The proposed $250 million project includes beachfront condos,
a hotel and spa. Plans call for it to be open year round.

By Richard Degener - Staff Writer

LOWER TOWNSHIP −Pennsylvania developer Eustace Mita is thinking outside the box.

The box, in Mita’s business, is just about every other large hotel or condominium project on the New Jersey shore.  Most are square or rectangular structures that re, well, a bit architecturally challenged.

Mita, 49, just bought an old box of a hotel, the five story Grand Hotel in Diamond Beach built there three decades ago as a Holiday Inn, and plans to tear it down and build something grander.  When the plans came back showing what he could building without any variances, the drawings showed an eight story rectangular box.

Mita, who lives in Media, Pa., but also has a home in Wildwood Crest, remembers thinking the last thing Five Mile Beach needs is another boxy building.

“My heart just sank.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It’s a great big piece of beach, and an opportunity to do something first class,” Mita recalled.

Mita’s company, Achristavest, LLC, of Eddystone, Pa., where he serves as managing partner, had purchased a 31 acre property with 300 feet of beachfront.  The property extends into the ocean 3,465 feet.  Achristavest is also looking to purchase the adjoining Pier 6600 Motor Inn, which would make the property even larger.  Surely, they could do something besides a box.

Mita said he took a road trip along the East Coast to look at the latest innovative beachfront architecture and returned home with a vision that combined the best of what he saw on his trip.  After meeting with his architects and engineers, the plans for The Grand Resort and Spa began taking shape.

The main building would be pyramid shaped with five separate and distinctively colored tiers.  The first tier is three stories.  This is followed by five, eight, 11 and 12 stories, topped off with a giant cupola.  This building would house between 113 and 120 condominium units.  A pedestrian bridge would link the building with another pyramidal structure – 150 unit hotel across Atlantic Avenue.  The plans also call for pools, a full service spa, health club, a boardwalk along the beachfront, a gourmet restaurant, poolside bar and grill, parking garages, an oceanfront entertainment area and other amenities.

“Show me, outside of Atlantic City and the Borgata, where has there been this kind of project?  You can’t put a piece of ground together like this,” Mita said, speaking at the site Monday.

Plans for the project were supposed to be unveiled to the public at a Lower Township Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting last week, but not enough board members were present, so it was postponed until March 4.  Mita was happy to share the plans with the media.

Mita knows some neighbors were at the meting last week to object to the height.  He needs several variances, including one to exceed the 65 foot height limit in Diamond Beach.  One of Mita’s arguments is that only one of five tiers is the full height, and most neighbors will have more ocean view from this building that from the eight story box structure he could build without variances.  The eight story building would have been closer to the ocean, actually farther east that The Grand Hotel now sits.

Mita also points out that this is a golden opportunity to get rid of The Grand Hotel, which is showing its age and could lower property values in the area.  If The Grand Hotel became condominiums, he said, it would be almost impossible to tear it down.

Mita is also offering the public a beach, which is a hot commodity in Diamond Beach, since the strand is privately owned.  Seasonal beach fees can cost hundreds of dollars.

“Now, there is a private beach with fences.  We will give them 50 feet of beach from the high water line,” Mita said.

Lower Township Mayor Larry Starner has already spoken enthusiastically about the project, partly because it could solve the annual beach issues in the area.  Starner also likes a high ratable – and it would instantly become the township’s largest – that produces few school children.  The mayor also likes the jobs it will create.

“You get jobs in building, maintaining and running it.  It’s just a huge benefit for Lower Township,” Starner said.

Mita has already chosen a Pennsylvania construction company as general contractor, but he said he will hire local subcontractors.  He also expects 50 to 100 jobs to operate a resort hotel that will be open year round.

This is where Mita is also thinking outside the box.  Few beachfront hotels outside of Atlantic City operate year round, but Mita said Congress Hall in Cape May has shown it can work.  Mita said aging baby boomers are spending more time at the shore in the off season, and special events can be held to bring them here.  He said the spa would be designed to offer hard workouts for those who want them or to pamper vacationers who are looking for that.  He also noted Sept. 11 has led to more vacations closer to home.

“We have 18 million people within a 120 minute drive, two hours, of the beach,” Mita said.

The project also includes conference rooms for meetings, seminars and special events, so this may help draw off season business.  Family activities, including a children’s camp, should draw families.

The project still faces many hurdles, and the Zoning Board hearing is just the first.  Mita said he and his partners have the money and are ready to being construction in 2005 if they get the approvals.  Mita estimates the project is worth $250 million.

The engineer for the project is Vincent Orlando of Ocean View.  Donald Zacker of Avalon is the architect and Victor DePallo of Pennsylvania is the landscape architect.  The Madison Advertising Group of Vineland and Oceanside Realty of Wildwood Crest are handling marketing and sales for the project.  Achristavest, LLC has other projects in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Utah.


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