When Hurricane Sandy's wrecking ball ripped through the New Jersey shore last October, it claimed the boardwalks and strangled the seaside amusement parks. With 95 mph winds causing the worst damage the state had ever seen, the storm left many residents wondering how many years it would take for a full recovery --- or if recovery would ever happen at all. The skeleton of the Star Jet Roller Coaster in Seaside Heights peeking out from the ocean became the national iconic image of the devastation that Sandy wrought.
The coaster in the sea was finally dismantled in May and the turnaround didn't take long. This summer the New Jersey shore is back and although has a way to go, is nearly what it used to be. In fact, according to one poll, visitation may even exceed last summer's.
The uncanny success is mainly due to a successful tourism campaign and generous Federal funding that allowed for expensive repairs. Currently, 80 percent of beach towns and businesses are now operating at full force and 22 of the 23 boardwalks are open, noted Kimberle Rolle Samarelli, executive director of the NJ Amusement Association. The Jersey Shore comprises the largest portion of the state's $38 billion tourism industry.
"(Due to) the unwavering pride and hard work of local residents, small business owners and public officials, the Jersey Shore was and is ready for summer - and it is our job to communicate they are open for business," Samarelli noted.
With true New Jersey spunk, the current TV, radio, print and web commercial campaign does not deny or attempt to erase the fact that the storm came through and nearly wiped everything out to sea, but instead stares it down the face with a victorious punch. "Stronger than the Storm" has been a catchy, successful slogan, bringing back not only the old-timers to the shore but pulling in the first-timers as well.
"We felt it important to replace the images of devastation that people associated with the storm and change them to images of open beaches, vibrant boardwalks and families creating another summer's worth of memories at the shore," Samarelli said.
The "Stronger than the Storm" Facebook page now counts more than 75,000 'likes.' Today, the only images broadcast are the happy faces attending events such as the Clam Fest in the Highlands, the Baby Parade in Westwood, and the "Taste of New Jersey" festival held further inland in Holmdel. It's almost hard to remember that less than a year ago, photos and videos of destroyed and scrambled seaside amusement parks littered the press and were broadcast relentlessly.
The campaign was made possible in part by the $6.8 billion in Federal funding assistance given to New Jersey. It is funded through support from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and executed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. "In the aftermath of Sandy, the (Gov.) Christie Administration has worked expeditiously to get programs and direct assistance to small businesses. More than $756 million in U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans have been approved," Samarelli said.
Seaside Heights, one of the most devastated towns, now boasts a rebuilt Casino Pier, with new rides including a new funhouse, the Surf Shack, Pirates Hideaway, Carousel Dizzy Dragons, Wave Swinger, Boats, Motorcycles, Car Combo, Disk'O, and a Tilt a Whirl. To help promote the new attractions, Casino Pier has been offering a $15 wristband special on Wednesdays, publicized by its Facebook page with more than 25,700 followers.
Soon to come to Casino Pier, replacing the destroyed Star Jet roller coaster, will be the Street Fighter manufactured by Technical Park. The Street Fighter, which gains a new name at Seaside Heights: The Superstorm, is a high thrill pendulum ride where the ride goes in a 360 degree circle but also swings back and forth.
Point Pleasant, another Jersey shore magnet with rides and the famous Jenkinson's pier, was devastated as well, but has since made a turnaround with fresh boardwalks and rebuilt businesses.
Proof of the success has been cited in the latest Rutgers-Eagleton survey Samarelli noted. The survey shows that 96 percent of people who regularly visit the shore will do so again this year, and "a quarter of those who don't usually go will be joining them." The survey also notes that the "Stronger than the Storm" campaign has created a positive impression and reveals that those who have seen the commercials are much more likely to visit the shore (70 percent over 61 percent).
"And New Jersey residents who have seen the campaign are five points more likely to spend a longer time at the shore than those who have not seen it," she said.