|By Trudi Gilfillian, The Press of
Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 13, 2012--WILDWOOD -- Rebuilding the Shore Plaza Motel was a family decision.
Around September 2009, Salvatore Spera gathered his family together and asked what they were going to do with the then-vacant lot between 26th and Juniper avenues that was once home to the motel.
Fire had swept through the Boardwalk motel and the adjoining Sam's Pizza Palace on Dec. 9, 2005.
Spera and his family watched that night as dozens of firefighters tried to control the blaze, which was eventually deemed accidental, having started in a ceiling-based heating unit in a third-floor room.
A larger, newer Sam's Pizza was opened in summer 2006, but the motel's future was uncertain.
"We put all our energy into that," daughter Rosemary Zuccarello said of the pizza business, started in 1957.
"We had a little meeting and talked about rebuilding," Zuccarello said of that 2009 family gathering. "And he said, 'Do you want to do that, do you want to do that?' to each of us. He got the ball rolling."
Each of them agreed they wanted to rebuild, and soon Zuccarello and her siblings, Tony Spera and Ritz Szczur, now the three owners of the motel and pizza place, got to work.
"It was scary, a lot of sleepless nights," Zuccarello said.
The motel was underinsured, but they decided to move ahead, making a $6 million investment to bring the Shore Plaza back to life.
"We live here. This is our home," Zuccarello said of the family's interest in staying in business on the island.
She added that while many of the island's motels were knocked down to make way for condominiums, there is still a market for motel rooms.
"A lot of people want to stay at a motel," Szczur said.
Now, with their May 4 opening weekend close at hand, the fears and worries have subsided, replaced by excitement and optimism.
"I'm so proud," Zuccarello said as she and Szczur led a tour of the five-story, 57 unit motel. "It's exciting. You walk through and you get chills."
Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said Thursday that he welcomed the motel's return.
"It was a tragedy when it burned down. It meant a lot to the family and to the town," he said.
Troiano, a volunteer firefighter, was one of the dozens of firefighters who worked to control the blaze as it spread through the motel and pizza place. It started at 2:30 p.m. and was deemed under control by midnight.
He said the property is an important ratable (it was assessed at $6.7 million prior to the fire), but its value to the city goes beyond the financial.
"It was a considerable loss, and it just means a whole lot to us to see it rebuilt," Troiano said.
Patrick Rosenello, executive director of the Boardwalk Special Improvement District, agreed, calling the motel's opening "a great way to start off a new season."
Rosenello said the Shore Plaza represented the first new hotel construction along the Boardwalk in about 15 years.
"That there is a demand for that amenity on the Boardwalk is good. That the demand is being met is great," he said.
The new motel, now known as the Shore Plaza Beach Resort, sits at the same prime location, offering views of the beach, Boardwalk and ocean, and has modern features not present in its circa-1960 predecessor.
The family purchased the motel in 1977, and it was typical of an older motel.
"Each room now controls its own heat and air. We used to do it by vote. Some people were too cold and some too hot, so we had to ask them, 'Do you want air or heat?'" Zuccarello said.
In addition to controlling their own room temperatures, guests will have other circa-2012 features, including a fourth-floor pool with spa, Wi-Fi Internet access, and flat-screen televisions.
The rooms, including two that are handicapped-accessible, all have balconies, and some feature near-panoramic views of the ocean, beach and Boardwalk.
"There's nothing that we didn't put in here," Zuccarello said. "We want people to come here and feel at home."
Gary Adams, project supervisor with H.C. Pody Co. of Bensalem, Pa., demonstrated the new door locks, accessed not with a key but with a wave of a computerized card.
"After the fire, I heard from a lot of our customers. The ones that always had certain rooms, I sent them all the keys for those rooms," Zuccarello said.
Those customers continue to ask for updates about the motel, and Szczur said they are part of the reason she is excited to be back in business.
"I'm looking forward to seeing our old customers," Szczur said as she and her sister spoke of some of their regulars as old friends. "We had loyal customers who come back year after year."
Construction began in April 2011, and final touches were being put on the motel this week. A new sign should be in place shortly, along with a new reservation system.
"That scares me," Szczur said with a smile of the computerized reservation system that will replace the pen and paper the motel relied on before the fire.
Szczur credited her sister with taking the lead on much of the work, as she learned more about construction than she had ever expected to know.
"I have such respect now for electricians and carpenters and plumbers," Zuccarello said.
And while new amenities are in place, the family-run operation will continue.
Zuccarello or Szczur will regularly staff the front desk, with other family members helping as needed around the property. A nephew will work as a lifeguard at the pool.
"You'll always find a family member here," Zuccarello said.
Contact Trudi Gilfillian:
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