Making Magic Happen: Rebuilding Casino Pier After Hurricane Sandy

21 June 2013
Making Magic Happen: Rebuilding Casino Pier After Hurricane Sandy

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the US Eastern Seaboard wreaking devastation.  Many people around the world will remember seeing the surreal image of a rollercoaster stranded in the ocean.  That coaster was the JetStar on Casino Pier at Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

Just seven months later, on Memorial Day Weekend 2013, Casino Pier reopened, the first phase of rebuilding completed on time.  Casino Pier Marketing Manager, Maria Mastoris and Jeff Lichtenberg, Senior Project Designer at JRA (Jack Rouse Associates), talk to Blooloop about rebuilding the iconic New Jersey attraction.

Super Storm Sandy

With damage estimated at $53 billion, Hurricane Sandy is the second most costly hurricane in US history after Hurricane Katrina.  The damage at Seaside Heights was extensive.  Construction projects underway include rebuilding work on the mile-long boardwalk at a cost of $3.6 million, and a $6 million protective seawall.

Gusting at up to 115 mph, Hurricane Sandy, renamed Super Storm Sandy because of her ferocity, tore through Casino Pier.  Mastoris describes the damage: “Hurricane Sandy destroyed Casino Pier, the rides, boardwalk, pier and electrical elements. The JetStar roller coaster and other rides and components (Log Flume, Stillwalk Manor Haunted House, Centrifuge Building with the ride and many other rides or parts of rides housed in there and the Music Xpress) fell into the ocean.  Many other ride parts were found on other various beaches.  Casino Pier lost 200’ of pier in the northern most section (where the JetStar and Music Xpress was) and 50’ by the Log Flume.  Our Arcade building which housed the Pier Surf Shop, Carousal, Arcade Games and Pier Grill was flooded and lost electricity.”

JetStar rollercoaster in ocean after Hurricane Sandy hit Casino Pier, New Jersey

“What can you do?”

Despite the overwhelming devastation and extensive work needed just to clear the damage before even starting to rebuild, Lichtenberg remembers being struck by New Jersey stoicism.  Speaking to representatives from Casino Pier at the IAAPA Expo in Florida in November, he recalls typical comments included “What can you do?” and “Oh well, we’ll just have to bounce back.”

Mastoris echoes those feelings, “There never has been a question of “if” we were rebuilding, it was a matter of how quickly.  The shore means a lot to many people.  It’s generations of memories here, and our priority was to rebuild those memories for everyone.  Our priority was to be open for Memorial Day and the 2013 season.  We had workers from November 12th helping with the recovery efforts.   We had to gather the rides which we could salvage and put into storage and maintenance.  Then the plan was to tear down the pier that was destroyed and place new pilings and decking to have the lower section of our pier completed for the season.  Then we had to remove the infamous coaster in the ocean, along with the other rides from the ocean.  We wanted to move as quickly and efficient as possible to make the Jersey Shore be open for the season.”

“A mesmerizingly magical experience”

Casino Pier hired JRA (Jack Rouse Associates) to provide a master plan for the rebuild.  Given the extensive damage and the short timescale, JRA proposed a two-phased plan, focussing initially on rebuilding the smaller lower pier area, with a longer range master plan for the larger upper deck. 
Lichtenberg explains that key to the approach taken by JRA was recognising that “what existed prior to Sandy was a solid successful and functional entertainment attraction that over the years was tweaked to maximize efficiency, entertainment value and profit.  What worked was not to be reinvented rather enhanced. 

Casino Pier New Jersey before Hurricane Sandy

“JRA studied site lines, building aesthetic, accessibility and an the attraction mix with a goal to create a total experience that addressed all age groups and kept a strong link to the history and nostalgia of Casino Pier just on a smaller footprint (at least for now).

“Once the plans were close to being set, JRA started to look more closely at the “Alleyways” area where the boardwalk and the pier intersect.  This is the area where thousands of guests flow from the boardwalk to the pier and where the majority of food, beverage and games buildings are located.

“Another factor that influenced our design was where to place attractions, particularly large rides to create a strong, enticing visual presence.  The composition of coasters, spinning flat rides and vertical attractions mixed in with the smells of the various food options, the sounds of laughter and games along with the diversity of guests can make for a mesmerizingly magical experience.”

Mastoris says that there was a balance between reinstating the original attractions and looking for opportunities to improve and update.  “JRA worked closely with us on the proposed master plan, which calls for the boardwalk and pier to retain those rides that were salvaged after the superstorm, including the Disk’O ride, Skyscraper ride, Pirate’s Hideaway coaster, Sky Ride chair lift and several treasured kiddie rides.  Casino Pier is using this opportunity to update its ride mix with new family attractions and to refresh food, beverage and retail outlets.”

“Pulling in the same direction to make magic happen”

So what will be the longer term effects of Sandy for Seaside Heights’ operators and visitors? 

“We believe Hurricane Sandy has brought us all closer together, business owners, residents and patrons since we all been through a lot and we are all pulling in the same direction to make magic happen,” says Mastoris.  “Casino Pier will still retain many of the traditional elements – the 100+ year old Carousel, Arcade games, many kiddie and thrill rides and food stands.  It will look the same to many with a few alterations - but a great chance to build new memories and traditions. Every employee at Casino Pier still retains the same values and appreciation for our guests.  Our returning guests will feel the same tradition and our new guests will build a tradition at Casino Pier that will make them return again and again.”

Casino Pier New Jersey has been rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy by Jack Rouse Associates

Challenges

For Mastoris, the most challenging aspect of the rebuilding project was the complexity of the process:  “More so than we ever imagined.  It isn’t the new regulations as such, it is trying to work within so many different requirements that are out of our control that is the most frustrating.

“Originally, we returned to Seaside on November 12th, and our team of employees from all departments on our property banded together to get the property recovered.  We move quickly, but the agencies, insurance companies, and governmental agencies do not.  We dealt with much frustration just even getting to the property in the early goings over the limited access.  We could not wait to start the required work, but with all of damage we sustained, we also needed to do certain things based on the procedures the insurance representatives dictated.  If we were able to change anything from the start, it would be the speed in which things happen so we could allow our necessary work to have happened quicker.”

Signs of recovery

As to the future Mastoris is optimistic.  “People have been returning to Seaside Heights to support the businesses that are back opened.  The rentals and hotels have been down, but we believe that will pick up throughout the season.  We are keeping optimistic because the amount of people in town on the weekends already is a great indication that things will be good.”



Image of JetStar Rollercoaster: Aerial views of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast taken during a search and rescue mission by 1-150 Assault Helicopter Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard, Oct. 30, 2012. - Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/U.S. Air Force/New Jersey National Guard
 

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