Icona, a luxury resort brand that has been growing quickly along the Jersey Shore, is close to making a deal to buy a historic former bank building in the middle of the downtown shopping area for $6.5 million. This could be the start of a boutique hotel in Ocean City.
Court records show that the owner of the seven-story building at 801 Asbury Ave. filed for bankruptcy in May 2021. Since then, the bank has been for sale as part of the bankruptcy process.
Ocean City officials have said they are interested in the site, but legal documents show that the city’s offer is not as good as Icona’s. Officials say that if nothing unexpected happens, the sale should be done by the end of the year.
“Anyone else who is interested can come in and object,” said attorney Brian Thomas, who was named the property’s trustee. But he said, “If everything goes well, there will be an order and then a plan for the end.”
Records show that the pending agreement with Icona includes the purchase of a former warehouse property that has been turned into commercial lease space. It is located at 176 Route 50 in Estell Manor, a small town in Atlantic County. The same person owns both that building and the bank building.
When Icona representatives were asked to comment, they did not.
The seven-story building at the corner of Eighth Street and Asbury Avenue was built in 1925, Thomas said. The First National Bank of Ocean City and then Crown Bank used to be on the first floor. The building also has parking lots off of Central Avenue, across from the city’s police station and municipal court.
The nearly 100-year-old building is mostly empty, but there are still a few tenants on different floors. These include Cornerstone Community Church’s Second Chance Boutique, which sells used items, and Sample Media Inc., which owns the local Ocean City Sentinel.
When the building’s owner, 801 Asbury Associates LLC, filed for bankruptcy last year, Thomas was appointed to oversee the building’s sale.
Thomas hired a broker to help him sell the property, and court records show that Icona’s offer was the best.
Records show that the trustee thinks it is very unlikely that a better offer will be made at the auction or elsewhere. “If you don’t agree to this sale, the only other options are to go ahead with the auction, which may or may not bring in a higher price but may bring in less money for the estate, or to leave the properties empty, neither of which is better for the estate.”
Ocean City spokesman Doug Bergen said that the city is still interested in the old bank building, but that “we have no reason to object in the bankruptcy case.”
Bergen cited the prime location for the building and the parking lots. Bergen said, “They’re right in the middle of our downtown.”
Icona still needs to get the okay from Judge Andrew Altenburg of the federal bankruptcy court in Camden. According to court documents, a hearing on the proposal is set for 10 a.m. on December 13.
If the sale goes through, Icona would still need to get approval from the zoning board because hotels are not allowed in Ocean City’s central business zone.
The Chamber of Commerce says that there are 631 rooms in 26 hotels and motels in Ocean City right now. Some buildings, like the historic Flanders Hotel, have condos that have to be used as hotel rooms for part of the year. If you count these rooms, there are an estimated 1,194 hotel and motel rooms in Ocean City.
Since Ocean City is a dry city, Icona’s proposed hotel would not sell alcohol.
Icona’s president, Eustace Mita, told The Press of Atlantic City that the company’s decision to invest in Ocean City was influenced by his long history with the town.
Icona has become a major player in Cape May County’s beach towns. It has eight beachfront properties in Cape May, the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township, Avalon, and Wildwood Crest, as well as a property in Spring Lake, which is in Monmouth County.
Icona is getting ready for another big change. The company said it would spend $150 million to build a 5-star hotel with 160 rooms on the site of the old Beach Theater on Beach Avenue in Cape May. If it gets built, it would be the first new hotel in Cape May’s historic district in 50 years.