ATLANTIC CITY — Gardner’s Basin, the sometimes neglected, occasionally threatened, and enduringly low-key-charming Back Bay collection of restaurants, commercial fishing boats, dolphin tours, outdoor concerts, aquarium, and the best breakfast in Atlantic City, is getting a face lift.
State and city officials announced that the historic maritime park on Absecon Inlet and its Atlantic City Aquarium will receive $3.6 million in state funding for renovations as early as this fall.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, said the renovations are part of the city’s effort to improve the family-friendly park and aquarium as a destination beyond the Boardwalk, casinos, and tourism district.
Work is continuing on the Boardwalk along the inlet, between Absecon Island and Brigantine, to connect it to Gardner’s Basin. The rebuilt wooden path has received $50 million in upgrades in the South Inlet since 2015.
In the past, some have touted Gardner’s Basin and a nearby tract of land controlled by Jared Kushner’s real estate company as a place where something akin to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor could be planned.
But this smaller-scale investment in the basin will come as welcome news to locals and others who loyally seek out the somewhat-hidden gem, including the Back Bay Ale House and Gilchrist, a breakfast shop, both facing the marina.
On Wednesday, amid the coronavirus shutdowns, the Back Bay was only serving takeout. James Harry, 56, a commercial clam boat captain, bought a bottle of vodka, Kahlua, coffee, and some creamer to make his own Black Russian to go along with his takeout lunch.
“Gardner’s Basin and the Atlantic City Aquarium are incredible assets for Atlantic City on a variety of levels," Oliver said in the release. "They provide tourism options beyond the casinos and the beaches, they offer an authentic sense of place, and they can be a catalyst to attract new residents, many of whom want access to parks, nature, and recreation.”
In past summers, there have been numerous concerts that have drawn large crowds of locals and others, but funding for those events has varied from year to year. In 2017, a dozen crafters who occupied temporary huts were told to vacate after the state decided they didn’t fit the guidelines for Green Acres funding.
“The improvement of Gardner’s Basin is a high priority, and now the city has secured $3.6 million to make it a reality,” said Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. “In a few months, the Boardwalk will be connected to Gardner’s Basin for the first time ever. The last phase of this project is to make the basin and aquarium wonderful destinations.”
The funding is coming from a $1.6 million grant from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), a $1 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Green Acres Program, and $1 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds administered by DCA, the state said.
The Green Acres grant will be used for park improvements including restroom renovations, parking improvements, new LED lighting, a public address system, maintenance renovations, WiFi, electric vehicle charging stations, and other upgrades, the release said.
The renovations will also include a new roof; electrical and HVAC improvements; and window replacements, flooring, exhibits, and gift shop renovations at the Atlantic City Aquarium, which has not had any major repairs in 20 years.
The disaster recovery funds, which the state received from the federal government in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, will repair a section of the bulkhead that is collapsing into the water, the state said, creating pedestrian risks and contributing to regular flooding.
The funding will also be used to dredge the basin’s marina to enable storm-water drainage.
More than $50 million has been invested in connecting the Boardwalk from Absecon Inlet around to the Gardner’s Basin area. The state said that project should be done by the summer.