Temple Of Mammon
Bread and butter. Horse and carriage. Salt and pepper… to the list of things that seem to go together, add Cape May and Temple. It’s remarkable how many links the city has with the Philadelphia university. And when we say “links”, we mean the fairly constant stream of money that has been flowing from 08204 to 19122 over the last few years. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Ed Mahaney, a Temple graduate, has been the mayor of Cape May while these deals have been agreed. Or maybe he wants a statue erected on the Temple grounds.
Mind you, Cape May’s recent history with the school predates Mayor Mahaney. In 2007, the year before the mayor took office, Temple graduate Martin Kimmel of Philadelphia architects Kimmel-Bogrette was hired to design Convention Hall with a no-bid contract, much to the chagrin of some locals, who wanted architects to compete for the job. (The same firm was responsible for the design of Temple’s practice football field and student center, renovations of the law school, and a university fieldhouse and greenhouse.)
In 2009, with Mayor Mahaney in office, the university’s Department of Landscaping Architecture and Horticulture was paid $48,500 to come up with new designs for Rotary Park, Harborview Park and the Sewell Point Sanctuary, as well as a walking trail linking historical sites, and a conceptual plan for Lafayette Park. “Rather than seek out a professional firm, the project has been developed as a learning experience for 27 students at Temple University Ambler. And while the students may not yet have their licenses, they are approaching the project no less professionally,” says Temple’s website.
We’re thrilled that the students got to enjoy such a real-life “learning experience”, but we are wondering why the city wouldn’t have employed the services of a licensed landscape architect firm to come up with the designs, which would protect the city from liability just in case, you know, a gazebo fell apart and landed on someone’s head.
In 2005, the city engaged such a firm, Virginia-based Rhodeside and Harwell, who were paid $130,000 to come up with a “vision plan” that was aimed at beautifying the city’s open spaces. Their remit included Harborview and Rotary Park and their designs were viewed and discussed at public meetings. Makes you wonder why the city didn’t continue that relationship since the consensus was that Rhodeside and Harwell had produced excellent work.
Last month, Wells Appel, run by Stewart Appel, an adjunct professor at Temple, was hired, at a cost of $14,875, to do Convention Hall’s landscaping design work. Local contractors weren’t given the opportunity to bid. When we asked the mayor at a city council meeting why this was so, he touted the fact that the city had an already-established relationship with the firm, which was important since it was a rush job. We have a couple problems with this viewpoint. First of all, the city had an already-established relationship with Rhodeside and Harwell, and that didn’t seem to count for much. Secondly, when we spoke to Stewart Appel, he was at pains to point out that it was his company and not his students (who are the ones with the already-established relationship) which is doing the design work at Convention Hall.
Maybe, like us, you are having a hard time distinguishing between the firm of Wells Appel and the students at Temple, and it seems like maybe the mayor is, too.
What also has our interest piqued is a $53,000 agreement between the city and Temple that was forged in 2009. The result was supposed to be two-fold: the development of a long-range plan “to ensure the improved viability of Cape May as a desired, premier tourist destination,” and the development of business and management plans for the new Convention Hall.
The public has never seen this business management plan, which should have been completed in March of 2011… the month the partnership ended, according to Temple’s website. A year later, and we’re still trying to figure out what the city got for its $53,000. “There was one PowerPoint presentation given by a Temple consultant a while back,” Harry Bellangy of the Taxpayers’ Association told us, “that looked like it was done in the back seat of someone’s car on the way to Cape May.”
We called and emailed the mayor and City Manager Bruce MacLeod for their responses to the points we bring up here. But neither of them has responded to any of our questions since the publication of last week’s column (and cartoon). Sorry, guys, but when you’re in public office, sulking is not an option.
So we reached out to Deputy Mayor Jack Wichterman who, as usual, did call us back promptly. “To my knowledge,” he said, “that management plan has not been accomplished. It’s a great question why not.” So, will we ever see the results? “I should hope we get what we pay for,” said Mr Wichterman. He mentioned that Mike Whipple, Director of Marketing, Communications, and Event Sales for Convention Hall (that’s a lot to squeeze on a business card), and his deputy Michael Chait are “two very accomplished guys,” that he’s requested of them a one-year and five-year management plan for Convention Hall, and that these are being presented to City Manager MacLeod “within a week or so.” That’s great, although we can’t understand why this work would have fallen on the shoulders of these men if Temple had already been paid for the work. “Temple predates me,” Mr Wichterman said. “I’m dealing with people I know. I know Whipple. I know Chait. I don’t have a clue what Temple is going to come up with.”
Hopefully, someone comes up with an operating cost projection sooner rather than later, considering the hall opens next month and, according to Mr Wichterman, this hasn’t been accomplished yet, either, “not to my knowledge.” We called Mike Whipple to check, and he said, “I wouldn’t say we have those figures yet, though we are doing things to reduce operating costs, such as solar paneling.”
As we reported after the last council meeting, City Auditor Leon Costello has promised that citizens will not see a rise in taxes because of the building of Convention Hall (enough “old debts” are being retired that taxpayers will not feel the burden of a building debt), but it’s the operating costs that remain a mystery. “That’s something else Temple was supposed to come up with,” Harry Bellangy told us.
Perhaps part of the reason we don’t yet have an operating cost projection is that we don’t yet know all of the specifics of the hall. While council insists there are no major changes being made, we were told about a “discussion” last Wednesday between Mayor Mahaney and the city’s Construction Manager Bill Callahan. It involved “the need for space around the stage area for fire exits, which will dictate how big the stage needs to be,” Jack Wichterman told us, though he wouldn’t go into details.
You might think this is the kind of discussion that shouldn’t be happening so close to the building’s opening, on Memorial Day weekend. But we were also disturbed that the “discussion” ended with the mayor appearing to threaten the construction manager’s job if the permit for the changes wasn’t produced quickly enough. (“You could be working in Wildwood Crest on Monday!” was his parting shot, according to our sources.) It was nice of the mayor to provide such an immediate corroboration of our column last week, which stated that, in defiance of municipal law, he, not the city manager, is running Cape May.
And so on to the final (that we know of) partnership with Temple. The university has been organizing the Forum for the Future of Tourism — a series of public workshops, open forums and written questionnaires, according to council meeting minutes from August, 2009. These components should have been completed a year ago, as per the original agreement, but the city was still collecting responses to tourism-related surveys a few weeks ago.
We asked M&M (Messrs Mahaney and MacLeod) if there had been a resolution in the last three years extending the partnership — to which we heard… crickets. (We also filed government records request forms so we could see the details of the agreements with Temple. We’ll let you know as soon as we get the results.)
We did speak to Wes Roehl, Director of Graduate Programs in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple, who told us that one of the “quite useful” pieces of the city’s webpage is “a series of reports on what we’ve done.” We checked the city’s site, and one of those reports included this gem: “The main reasons for summer 2011 visitors to visit the City of Cape May were vacation and getaway.” Shut up! No way! And this: “The top three activities for non-local respondents were dining and the beach… and antiquing/shopping.” We demand another opinion — why is coyote-hunting not in the top three?!
Finally, we would like to share the story of an Exit Zero reader who called us Monday to tell us what happened when he went to City Hall to ask about tickets for the Peter Nero and the Philly Pops concert, which is allegedly opening the new Convention Hall. The last time we spoke to City Manager MacLeod, he refused to confirm that the concert was happening, or how much money the city was paying the group, even though every newspaper in the region had published a story saying the price was $85,000. “We’ll be holding a press conference,” was Mr MacLeod’s answer to our questions. Which is strange, since this is what the mayor said at a council meeting last October, “Back in June, council gave the approval and I met with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops and we worked out an agreement for them to come down Memorial Day weekend and play a gala fundraiser benefit for the city.”
When our reader asked the lady behind the counter at City Hall for the cost of the tickets, she said she didn’t know yet. When he asked which night the concert was happening, she said she didn’t know that, either.
We are six weeks away from a concert that (allegedly) is costing the city $85,000. So, to help the effort, we are offering the city a free double-page spread ad in every issue of Exit Zero from now until the week before the event. That’s $1500 worth of advertising, in a paper that’s read by around 12,500 people every week, not to mention those who read it online, all over the tri-state area, and beyond. Mike Whipple — give us a call and we will do the rest. We’d hate to see taxpayers get shortchanged.
Very Important People
WE CAN’T tell you how badly we didn’t feel like going to VIP night at Carney’s last Thursday. Your reporter took a “quick” power nap around 7pm, but woke up three hours later… groggy and in no mood to go out. But as the kids say, we rallied, and we were glad we did. VIP night is a harbinger of summer (you pay $10 this night, and you pay no cover for the rest of the season), which means a bar full of folks with summer on the brain.
We headed straight for bartender Garret Welsh (“Garret with one T,” he told us. “My mom had nine months to get it right, and she still spelled it wrong.”) so that he could serve us our water. We are spending the month of April detoxing, which is silly according to Garret with one T, because “April is the best month to drink.” Then he did his “bartending dance” with partner Becky Worcester. “We’re a team,” he said. “We’re going to come up with a handshake and everything.”
While we sipped our water, owner Joe Carney told us the turn-out on this particular VIP night was actually “slightly less” than for years past, which was surprising. In the Main Room, because the dance floor was so crowded, we saw people standing on tables in order to get a better glimpse of The Nerds, a band of middle-aged men “from Nerdville” (aka north Jersey) who played everything from Adele to Guns N’ Roses, to Lady Gaga.
Lucky for us, being the press, we didn’t have to stand on tables, we simply followed the band upstairs to their dressing room during their break like groupies. Also like a groupie, you get to see them half-naked. No, kidding, we walked in on the Nerds as they peeled off their sweat-soaked shirts. “We’re sure it’s nothing you haven’t seen before at Chippendales,” they told us, to which we quickly changed the subject. “Why do you guys wear so much flannel?” we asked of each member — Biff, Mongo, Stretch, and Spaz.
“This is NOT flannel,” frontman Spaz corrected us. “It’s plaid.” Actually, it’s “a cotton-poly plaid blend,” according to keyboard player Mongo. Either way, it complemented the Nerds’ duct-taped glasses nicely.
Lest you think these guys are just a bunch of goofballs, we should mention that they were really good and, also, that they’re serious musicians who’ve been playing for 27 years, “in the same clothes.” Music is “the full-time job” for the Nerds, who will be playing at Westy’s Irish Pub in Wildwood on July 22 this summer, in case you missed them. “And probably at Convention Hall,” Spaz said, “although that hasn’t been officially booked yet.” And whose fault is that? “I won’t name names,” said Spaz.
Then he told us about the guy he called on stage during the last set so that the band could spray-paint his head brown (“more Nestle-colored than Hershey’s-colored,” Spaz said) with some kind of “high-quality infomercial product.” This must have happened while we were busy talking with Chalfonte bartender Angela Monaghan in Carney’s Other Room (she recently traveled to Costa Rica, she told us, where she worked on an organic farm in the morning and surfed at Playa Hermosa in the afternoon), so we went back downstairs to see this spray-painted kid for ourselves.
Across the room, we spotted a set of painted-on sideburns on the head of Westside Market employee, Shaine Meier. We told him how cool we think it is that he stands up at council meetings (we’ve seen him there) to voice concerns about things like deteriorating seawalls; it’s not often you see young people at these things. “You know that phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’” he asked. “I feel as though I was raised by the entire Cape May community. I love this town.”
In fact, it was mostly locals we ran into at this VIP night. Dancing in the front-row was Exit Zero shop manager Jeanine Recupero. We also spotted former Congress Hall employee Cori Harris, who recently moved to Philadelphia. (“I came back to do my taxes,” she told us, “and it’s just a nice bonus that VIP night is this weekend, too.”) We ran into lifeguard/Ebbitt Room cook/future fireman Brandon Nash who is “excited” to get back on the beach. And we chatted with Deitz and Watson employee Doug Tracy who moved to Cape May after earning a degree from Ohio State University. (He could have made it to the Olympics for fencing, but he “didn’t care for” his college coach.) And we saw 22-year-old Sean Carney, who now runs the bar’s Stone Harbor location. “It’s hard for me to relax when I’m just here to have fun,” he said. “Like, if I see someone who needs a cocktail napkin, that’s a problem for me.”
Whatever your story, we were glad to see you out and about, Cape May. We think you’re all pretty VIP. (Except for you, the guy who kept fist-pumping into our personal space. You were annoying.)
Show Us The Money
Paying two dollars for five pennies seems, well, kind of fiscally irresponsible, doesn’t it? But not when they’re rare wheat pennies, like the ones we recently found at Cape May Antique Center, located at the harbor, across from the Lobster House. We stopped by with money on our minds, and were gratified to see a display case full of shiny quarters, nickels, dimes, and half-dollars as soon as we walked in the door. Cape May Antique Center general manager Debbie Brown was on duty when we arrived, and was quite helpful. “I’ve learned a lot about coins since I’ve been working here,” she told us. “There are different grades to coins – good, very good, and fine, and I also know that we have the best selection locally. Collectors come in with a list of what they’re looking for, and we let them know when we get it.”
Our eyes immediately went to the most expensive coin in the case (that seems to happen to us a lot when we shop), a Liberty Cap quarter from 1832, which is currently the highest-priced coin they have at $500. Vendor Linda Oates says their customers are knowledgeable and stay informed of fluctuations in the market. “The other reason people come to us as opposed to buying on eBay or other internet vendors is because they are able to physically hold it in their hands. They are taking less of a chance on their investment that way,” Linda says.
Something both women told us is that coin collecting is really making a comeback. “I think it’s the economy,” Linda said. “People want to invest in something that’s tangible, that holds its value like silver and gold does.” (Probably doesn’t hurt that you can stash it under your bed, too.)
“The interesting thing to me about coin collecting is how many kids are into Debbie says. “They come in at six, eight, 10 years old with their dad, who’s a collector, and maybe his dad before him was a collector. It’s really nice to see the kids take an interest in something like this, especially considering all the technology they have access to today. It’s cool watching a hobby being passed down through the generations that way.”