Homes weren’t the only structures to sustain major damage during Hurricane Sandy. Hotels along the Jersey Shore were also impacted by the storm. Now owners are gearing up for the summer season, which brings many tourists to the area. New Jersey Hotel & Lodging Association Executive Director Joe Simonetta told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he expects the majority of his members to be up and running for the summer.
Simonetta said members of his organization are working feverishly to get ready for summer, but there are still many unknowns. He said rebuilding has been hampered by the slow movement of funds — though he said the Christie administration is working to get money to those in need — and the adoption of new FEMA flood maps. He said it’s important to point out that most of the coastline’s hotels will be open.
“Not all 127 miles of the coastline saw the same types of damages. Some had none, some had minor, some had devastation,” Simonetta said. “So depending upon the pockets and where you are, I would say we’ll be 80 to 90 percent up and running.”
Some hotel operators are holding off on repairs until there is clarification about the FEMA flood maps, according to Simonetta. “Do you really need to raise it to a certain level or can you rehab, get through the season and then go back and repair? There’s still a lot of unknowns from the individual municipal code offices,” he said.
Simonetta said that staff members at the Office of Recovery have been working very closely with the hotel industry to clarify rebuilding concerns.
The process of getting relief aid has been slow, according to Simonetta. “It’s a delay of getting the funds moved to New Jersey from the federal government. Then the process of distributing the funds and making sure the funds are used properly and the oversight and all of that,” he said. “As you well know, there’s a lot of money at stake and there are a lot of people that are responsible to make sure that that money is handled appropriately.”
While some hotels suffered extensive damage, Simonetta said few owners have decided to abandon their businesses. Some have taken up offers to purchase their properties, but he said he only knows of two anecdotally. There are no statewide statistics available.
According to Simonetta, the mom and pop hotels have fared worse than the larger chain hotels. “The under 50-room hotels, they’re the ones that took the worst hit,” he said.
Despite the challenges, most will be taking reservations, according to Simonetta.
“They’re trying fast to do that and we hope that the EDA [Economic Development Administration] will approve the $25 million that the governor has asked for to tell the rest of the world that we’re ready and that we will be open for the season,” Simonetta said.