SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ -- It seemed an impossible task. Yet, the Jersey Shore will be open for business this weekend. With many areas almost completely rebuilt following the historic destruction wreaked by October's Superstorm Sandy, the fabled amusement region that has played host to generations of fun-lovers is back and better than ever. Put on the funnel cakes and set out the giant plush pandas, it seems nothing can keep New Jersey down.
Sixty-five percent of Seaside Heights' revenue comes from tourism, most of it during the 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the beach town's population swells from 2,800 people to 65,000. At least 85% of the business on the town's boardwalk will be up and running this Memorial Day weekend.
"Right now we're all very positive and upbeat. All of the amusement areas up and down the coast will be open and operational," said Kimberle Rolle Samarelli, the New Jersey Amusement Association's executive director. "The exceptions are the Casino Beach Pier in Seaside Heights and the Fun Town Pier in Seaside Park. They're undergoing infrastructure work, but should be up and running by July 4th weekend. Everything else is completely operational."
Those venues, many will recall, became the focus of news broadcasts with images of the landmark Jet Star rollercoaster submerged in the surf. A new pendulum ride, defiantly named Super Storm, will soon be installed at the Casino Pier.
By any measure, rebuilding the Jersey Shore was a monumental task that involved local municipalities and private businesses, with federal government aid. FEMA grants, according to some accounts, topped $400 million. In some instances work went on around the clock to get the venues ready for tourists. At stake was some $20 billion tourist dollars.
"A lot of people didn't think we'd do it," Samarelli said. "But I never doubted it for a moment."
But if you rebuild it, will they come?
As the critical Memorial Day weekend nears, the mood remains optimistic up and down the Jersey Shore. Businesses and municipalities are aggressively promoting the new and improved Jersey Shore while Gov. Christie, a high-profile national political figure, will no doubt be touting the region in the coming months. However, a recent visit and tour of the Jersey Shore by England's Prince Harry will be hard to top, even for the popular governor.
HOLIDAY DEADLINE: Workers put the finishing touches on Belmar's boardwalk in preparation for the busy summer season. The damage done to the famed boardwalks of the Jersey Shore by Superstorm Sandy presented a challenge for local construction crews working hard to have the state's beach areas ready to welcome visitors during the Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Rosanna Arias
GOOD SHOW: Prince Henry of Wales (second from left) – Harry for short – enjoys a tour of the rebuilt Jersey Shore under personal guidance of Gov. Chris Christie on May14th. The excursion, which included stops in Sea Girt, Mantoloking, and Seaside Heights, appeared greatly to interest the Prince, third in line of succession to the throne of the United Kingdom. No information was forthcoming on the royal opinion of funnel cakes or Snookie. Photo by Tim Larsen
LOVELY BUNCH OF COCONUTS: New Jersey Gov. Christie (foreground left) looks on as Prince Harry tries his luck at a ball toss game on the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights during recent royal tour of the fabled vacation destination as post-superstorm repairs neared completion. Photo by Tim Larsen
RING OUT THE OLD: Crowds and news media gathered along the Seaside Height boardwalk to watch the demolition of Casino Pier's Jet Star roller coaster. The landmark coaster, which collapsed into the ocean during Hurricane Sandy, became a symbol of the storm's destruction. The pier's management plans to replace the iconic coaster with a pendulum ride defiantly named The Super Storm. Photo by Rosanna Arias
JOINT EFFORT: Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno greets well-wishers at the New Jersey Amusement Association's 54th annual dinner dance on May 13; Standing behind her are NJAA director Kimberle Rolle Samarelli and president John Maurer, Coast to Coast Entertainment (Sayreville). Massive coordinated effort by regional businesses and federal, state and local governments have rebuilt much of the state's fabled seashore in time for the summer season.