Margate’s beloved Lucy the Elephant is officially staying put in her longtime beachfront perch.
Ending months of speculation that the famed wooden pachyderm might be uprooted, the Margate Board of Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a 20-year lease to keep Lucy in her seaside home overlooking the Decatur Avenue beach. The deal will renew automatically every five years, securing Lucy’s place in this New Jersey Shore city for the foreseeable future.
The commissioners’ 3-0 vote to approve the lease followed similar affirmation from the Save Lucy Committee at the nonprofit’s bimonthly meeting on Sunday.
Richard Helfant, executive director and chief executive officer of the committee, said Friday that the deal was “in Lucy’s best interest.”
The earlier lease on the city-owned land where Lucy has long stood had been in place for 50 years, but was to expire at the end of this year. The two-decade extension will maintain the city’s ownership of the elephant, while allowing the committee to continue operating the site.
Helfant said negotiations between the committee and the city in the last few weeks had been cordial, in contrast to more tumultuous exchanges in the past. The two groups, he said, had engaged in back-and-forth for six years, working to draw up an acceptable arrangement to replace the previous lease.
But even amid disagreements, the two sides insist that they always had the same goal: a stable home for Lucy.
Still, until a long-term agreement was reached, questions about Lucy’s future fueled speculation of a possible move, even talk of a hotel in her place.
Mayor Michael Becker said Friday that moving Lucy was never an option.
“Lucy is part of Margate," he said. "Always has been, always will be.”
To celebrate, Becker, along with Lucy’s many fans, will gather on Saturday to celebrate her 138th birthday. The party, which also will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Save Lucy Committee, will feature a giant water slide, rides, food, and of course, tours of the 65-foot structure.
It will be “an elephant-sized celebration,” Helfant said.
Lucy was built in 1881 to attract potential real estate buyers to Margate, then known as South Atlantic City, and has attracted international attention for its charming architecture ever since.
Ron Van Dyke, who for three years has owned the Breakfast Club of Margate, one of Lucy’s profitable neighbors, relies on Lucy to attract customers to his restaurant. Van Dyke, 50, also remembers visiting Lucy as a child, traveling from his home in Atlantic City to gawk at the behemoth.
He, along with other community members, heard rumors that Lucy might close when her lease ended on Dec. 31. All along, though, he assumed she’d stay put.
“Everybody around, they usually take care of Lucy,” he said. “I don’t think it will ever leave or close.”