Demolition began November 29th on Convention Hall and the Solarium, making way for a new $10.5 million hall slated for opening spring of 2012.
The first Convention Hall opened July 4th, 1917 and was a precursor to the multiplex – it had an arcade, retail stores fronting it and a movie theater along the east wing. The two-story $100,000 structure was the center of all activity in Cape May from dances to flower shows to concerts to the crowning of the Queen Maysea in August – a ticket so coveted it drew lines in front of Convention Hall. Those heady days came to an end one Ash Wednesday in 1962 when a massive Nor’easter swept through the island destroying Convention Hall. That led to the construction of a “new” Convention Hall built by city workers for a cost of $250,000 as a temporary measure until a “proper” Convention Hall could be built. That temporary building finally faced the wrecking ball Monday. The new hall will come with a price tag of $10.5 million and has faced two long years of controversy since it was condemned in the spring of 2008, forcing two voter referendums regarding the cost and multiple town meets regarding the amenities and construction design.
Demolition of Convention Hall as well as the adjacent Solarium will be take place over the course of the next three to four weeks according to City Manager Bruce MacLeod. The next steps in the process, he said, were to award the bid for pile installation needed to support the building. Those are due in mid-December and the city has 60 days to award the contract. Work on the pile-driving project should begin sometime in February or March. Simultaneously, said MacLeod, the city is also awaiting N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) approvals on, what he termed, “minor modifications” to the earlier permit. The application was sent last week and the city expects to hear from the state regarding their request by mid-January. The hope is that both the pile driving contractor and the CAFRA permits will be in place by March so that preliminary work can begin on time. MacLeod said he did not anticipate any delays with regard to the CAFRA permit.
Also in January and February, the city will let out to bid specs on the actual construction project targeted to begin in May, 2011. Once construction begins, it will be continuous. Tourists can look forward to a summer of watching it progress and store owners along that portion of the Promenade can hope that between the construction workers and the curious tourists, they can begin to recoup their losses from a closed Convention Hall these past few years.
History of Convention Hall
Editor’s Note: The following are remembrances of Convention Hall, both one and two. Bob Elwell (“Growing up on The Pier”), who served as mayor three times from 1990 to 2000, grew up in Cape May and spent many hours on the Boardwalk at Convention Hall. Frank Gauvry (Remembering the “new” Convention Hall”), oversaw construction of the second Convention Hall while he served as mayor from 1964-1972.