MARGATE, N.J. — Among high-profile landmarks in Margate — such as the Margate Bridge, Lucy the Elephant — the Margate Pier has quietly remained off-limits to the beach-going public.
For 96 years, only the Anglers Club of Absecon Island — whose members typically have been sponsored and approved by the board, and are dues-paying — could access the wooden pier through a locked gate off Exeter Avenue.
But now, with the pier mostly landlocked by beach replenishment, discussions are underway with the city and state and the club to open a portion of the walkway to the public, once the pier is extended at least 125 feet to place its fishing portions again over water.
At an estimated cost of $700,000 — mostly coming from the state Department of Environmental Protection — the City of Margate would like to see the inner portion open to the public from the beach during daylight hours.
With the city lacking a boardwalk since it was mostly destroyed during the 1944 hurricane, a public pier would give Margate a long-absent walkway and gathering spot over the ocean. Some in Margate have been lobbying for a new boardwalk to compensate for the unpopular dunes.
Commissioner John Amodeo, who briefed the mayor and other commissioners at a Feb. 7 work meeting in Margate, said he envisioned benches along the wooden walkway, with access limited to daylight hours.
“I know our pier in front of Tomatoes on the bay is so popular during the good weather,” he said. “There are weddings, photo shoots, workmen out there eating lunch.”
Built in 1923 by the private club, the pier was damaged on its ocean end by a 1988 fire. The club paid to have it rebuilt.
Club president Jeff Rutizer said its approximately 130 members pay a yearly $400 fee that gives them access to the pier, the clubhouse, and lockers.
“In the past, the way it usually worked, another member had to recommend and vouch for you,” he said. “It’s pretty much open to anybody.”
Rutizer confirmed that the club was in negotiations with the city and state to extend the pier and offer some public access.
“There are talks about making a portion of it public, not the whole pier, not the fishing part,” he said. “At this point, I really can’t make any comment.”
Amodeo said the club is relying on state money to extend the pier to keep it useful for fishing. The controversial dune and replenishment project nearly completed by the Army Corps of Engineers has left the 500-foot pier mostly high and dry during all but high tide.
Larry Hajna, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the original plan was for the state to grant $300,000 for a 65-foot extension of the pier, an agreement made after the club agreed to give up an easement to allow for the beach project to proceed around the pier.
But a longer extension is now being sought, by as much as 200 additional feet, according to Amodeo.
The nearby 1,000-foot long Ventnor Pier, built in 1914 and owned by the city, maintains 24-hour partial public access, and requires a $175 seasonal fishing membership, or a weekly or $10 daily pass to access the farthest portion.
Ventnor also allows people to buy $50 “spectator” passes that allow access without fishing to the entire pier, according to its website.
Amodeo said the Anglers Club maintains the pier and provides trash disposal and other services. He said that the clubhouse would continue to be private and that public access would be up a stairway from the beach with no current plans to make access ADA compliant.
Amodeo said it was too preliminary to say if the envisioned public access would be year-round or limited to perhaps three seasons.