Wildwood: A beach too wide?

Left inset, Jack Morey; right inset, Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano. F-bombs from BeachGlow Music Festival stage reached Morey’s Pier, owners say.

WILDWOOD, N.J. - The beach, it seems so simple.

Summer comes and people plant their butts by the surf until Labor Day, and all the pizza parlors, hotels, amusement parks and city coffers benefit as a result.

But the beach isn't so simple in Wildwood because it's so damn big - about a half-mile wide at some points - and that veritable desert in between has prompted the city's government and its most famous business, Morey's Piers, to get creative over the years.

Wildwood can host events on its beach that other towns couldn't dream of, like soccer tournaments or motocross events. But after the city brought the BeachGlow Music Festival, a charity electronic dance show, to the beach last Fourth of July weekend, the Morey organization and other business owners and tourism officials began to question the role that city government should have over a public space like the beach.

Past BeachGlow events raised funds for Harmony Ministries in Haiti, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the American Red Cross. But when the city tried to bring the show back this year, people started kicking sand in each other's faces.

"We just don't think government belongs in the revenue business," said Jack Morey, co-owner of Morey's Piers. "They belong in the business of trying to keep fees down and taxes down, and helping the community establish the brand."

The BeachGlow EDM show resulted in 36 arrests, and Morey's brother Will emailed Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., city commissioners and elected officials from neighboring Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood, listing more than a dozen colorful phrases used by DJs that he said customers could hear on the amusement piers - including: "Every time I say America, you say f--- yeah," "Wildwood, this is f---ing nuts out here," and "New Jersey motherf---er."

"The Wildwoods are a unique and special family place where room exists for a modest amount of 'edge,' " Will Morey wrote in the email. "However, please know that we will assert all available resources to prevent a repeat of what we saw . . . "

Yesterday, the BeachGlow Music Festival announced it was moving the show to Atlantic City as a result of the controversy, and its founder didn't hide his frustration.

"Unfortunately, some Wildwood business leaders unfairly equate BeachGlow with the negative stereotype of EDM music and don't want us in their town, when in fact, BeachGlow actually stands for healthy, safe entertainment that supports worthy causes," Dane Kunkel, BeachGlow's founder, said in a statement.

Mayor Troiano is also known for having a modest amount of edge. He likes to remind critics that Wildwood's beaches are free, unlike most other shore towns, and that it's the city's responsibility to clean them. Troiano said he wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't try to find revenue from the beach.

"We have to do what's good for the entire community," Troiano told the Daily News. "There's a lot of people that don't benefit from that boardwalk or that beach at all, but they pay for it."

In recent years, Wildwood has experienced other storms involving city officials and business owners.

In 2011, Troiano said that beach tags were inevitable, even though Morey's Piers and tourism officials were against them. Wildwood's efforts to host more events, including surfing competitions, and to build beach bars like those in Atlantic City resulted in a federal lawsuit filed last month, with officials from the company awarded the contract to implement them claiming that the city had undermined their efforts.

Last spring, Morey's said it would move three popular beach events - including the two massive Cape Express Beach Blast soccer tournaments that bring tens of thousands of visitors to Wildwood - to the beaches in North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest if the city didn't rescind additional beach-event fees it was looking to charge.

"We literally asked to add $20 to each team, and that was fought," said the mayor's son Ryan Troiano, Wildwood's director of beach services.

Jack Morey said he never wanted the beach issues to get personal. Morey's has been in Wildwood since the 1950s, he said, and "never turned away from paying every ounce of our fair share" and in the case of the soccer tournaments the city was asking for more.

"We were just done screwing around," Morey said.

Thomas Byrne, chairman of the Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, said he understands that city officials have all that beach to care for, but he also doesn't believe the answer is trying to turn government into business.

"I'm a private-sector guy, myself," Byrne said. "I've always felt that government should play as small a role as possible."

 


On Twitter: @JasonNark