State wants crafters at A.C.'s Gardner's Basin to stay - for now

The state has asked the National Park Service, which objected to the Crafter's Village at Historic Gardner's Basin, to agree to let the artisans and their sheds stay for one more season.

ATLANTIC CITY — Makers of homemade dolls and shabby-chic knickknacks, beaders, and other artisans can continue to sell their wares from sheds at Gardner's Basin, at least for one more season.

The State of New Jersey says it has asked the National Park Service, which objected to the Crafter's Village at Historic Gardner's Basin, to agree to let the artisans stay through Sept. 30. 

The 10 or so crafters who have occupied temporary wooden huts seasonally for a decade were given notice in March to empty out their inventories and seek another location.

But Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the state never meant for the crafters to be kicked out so abruptly, especially since most had already purchased this season's inventory.

"It was the National Park Service that dug in their heels on it," Hajna said. "We never intended to kick anybody out without notice."

The Park Service had said that Crafter's Village was not in line with the recreational and conservation mission of Gardner's Basin, which occupies land in the northeast Inlet along Atlantic City's marina basin.

The Park Service has oversight of the historic site because it was established with $200,000 in Land, Water and Conservation funds in the 1970s, along with $300,000 in Green Acres funds from the state.

Hajna said the state was hopeful that an agreement can be struck with the Park Service and the city to allow the crafters one more season. The city has said it is attempting to find another location for the crafters. (Hajna earlier said that the agreement had been struck with the National Park Service, but Wednesday afternoon said the state was waiting to hear from the Park Service.

Gardner's Basin is home to fishing and tour boats, the Atlantic City Aquarium, a surf shop, a parasail company, the Back Bay Ale House, and Gilchrist's, a well-known breakfast spot, all overlooking the water. 

In the summer, the old Scales restaurant, destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, operates a food truck, as does Fish Heads, and there is a bar in an old shipping container, making the area a mini-Spruce Street Harbor Park, mostly unknown to tourists. Music has taken various forms, with big neighborhood concerts and smaller bands by the bar.

A new boardwalk around the Inlet will ultimately connect to Gardner's Basin, and new bike lanes are being fashioned that lead directly to the basin.

The city has always hoped to turn Gardner's Basin into more of an Inner Harbor but has been stymied by regulations that kept out a rum distillery, Little Water Distillery, and by a large vacant parcel of land across New Hampshire Avenue that is owned by the Kushner Co., which never built a development it promised.

While most found the crafters unobjectionable, Hajna said the Park Service insisted that any businesses on the property be connected to the conservation and recreation mission, as required by the original funding.

He suggested there might be some wiggle room, as some of the crafters might cater their businesses more directly to Gardner's Basin.

"If they started to sell Gardner's Basin memorabilia, maybe that would be considered keeping in the spirit," he said.