DESIGNING THEME PARK RIDES AND MARQUEE ENTERTAINMENT VENUES PREPARED THIS ENGINEER TO TACKLE ASBURY PARK’S BOARDWALK REDEVELOPMENT
BY LAURA KOLNOSKI • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
Whirlwinds of rebirth and reinvention have swept over Asbury Park in the past decade, bringing a welcome, if sometimes dizzying, array of new things to see and do while attracting ever growing crowds eager to experience them all. Unprecedented excitement has gripped New Jersey’s City by the Sea, eliciting the inevitable question: What’s next?
For answers, we turned to George Ladyman, Jr., senior vice president and director of boardwalk redevelopment for Madison Marquette, the firm responsible for the recreation of the city’s world famous boardwalk. The overall project spans 30 acres and a mile of beachfront from Deal to Ocean Grove, where much has already been successfully accomplished.
Ladyman was our enthusiastic guide on an exclusive, behind the scenes tour offering glimpses into ongoing construction as well as what’s on the drawing board. Proud of what’s been accomplished, he expressed appreciation of his historic environs and exuded a “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet” attitude. What guides the process, he stressed, is maintaining the city’s unique identity.
“There’s a certain grittiness we want to keep, but we also want to move it forward,” he said. “There are tons of moving pieces. We could build right now; people wonder why we haven’t. You have to get the history right along with other components like financing, absorption, visitation.” (“Absorption” refers to the rate at which the market can successfully accept and patronize new attractions, residences, and retail, he explained.)
Ladyman is officially responsible for the development, construction, management, and business operations of the boardwalk area’s various components. That includes the sector’s entertainment venues, which now host more than 600 shows, concerts, and events annually. Once completed, the project will include 350,000 square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment space, eight performance and cultural venues, and hotel and residential units. “We hope to build out what we control by 2022,” Ladyman said.
The boardwalk already teems with diverse life, drawing visitors year round. According to Ladyman, 10 to 15 percent are international travelers who attend festivals, concerts, and events outdoors and in legendary venues like The Stone Pony, the Wonder Bar, Convention Hall, and the Paramount Theater.
Madison Marquette now owns the Pony and Wonder Bar on Ocean Avenue, which have been improved though not substantially altered. The Wonder Bar’s previous owners still run the hot spot, and many Stone Pony staffers are venue veterans, ensuring tradition continues.
Nearby, the boutique Asbury Hotel, which opened in 2016 in the former Salvation Army building, offers popular entertainment and events all year. Its sister property, the adjacent Asbury Lanes, got a major facelift and debuted to rave reviews last year. Nearing completion on Ocean Avenue is the new Asbury Ocean Club Surfside Resort & Residences, a 17 floor complex with 260 residential units, public areas including retail and entertainment, amenities galore, and a hotel slated to open later this year.
The Asbury Ocean Club, the hotel, and other portions of the city’s redevelopment are the purview of iStar, Asbury Park’s master developer, which is responsible for about 20 projects in the downtown area. Madison Marquette, Ladyman explained, decided to partner with iStar to focus solely on the boardwalk. Sackman Enterprises, a third developer, specializes in restoring historic structures and has completed the House of Independents music venue and several residences; it’s currently turning the city’s old Savoy Theatre into a new hotel and theater. (For more information, see our May/June 2018 issue.)
THE MAN AND HIS VISION
A look at Ladyman’s extensive resume shows him to be a nationally recognized professional who has excelled internationally in real estate, design and development, and business management for more than 20 years.
In his previous position as international/managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle, he led teams working with Bank of America, Westin and Host Hotels, the Atlantic City Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, and Goldman Sachs. His high profile projects include the redevelopment of the 86th floor Observatory at the Empire State Building and New York’s West Side Rail Yards, and renovations of Harlem’s Apollo Theater and Lincoln Center on the city’s West Side.
Working with Time Warner, he spearheaded the creation of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, the People Magazine Experience, the Inside CNN Studio Tour, CNN Time & Life Studios, and Time Warner’s Le France HQ project.
Ladyman, a Missouri native who now resides in Princeton, trained to be a mechanical engineer because he wanted to design cars. Then, he said with a wry laugh, “I went to business school.” That led to planning and design projects for clients in the leisure and hospitality markets: a Southern California motorsports theme park; a ride and show development project for Warner Brother’s Movie World in Madrid, Spain; and the Coca Cola Company. Ladyman went on to oversee ride and show planning for all U.S. Six Flags properties, where his team developed Batman the Ride, Road Runner Express, The Right Stuff, and Superman in addition to Six Flags’ Hurricane Harbor Waterparks.
Ladyman holds U.S. patents for ride system/concept and industrial products, an MBA from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, a BS in industrial design from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California; and a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Arkansas. He is a member of the real estate advisory boards of the Apollo Theater Foundation and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
A teacher and lecturer at the Pratt Institute, his designs have been featured in Power and Motoryacht magazine, Cinefex, USA Today, The New York Times, The Discovery Channel, and Bloomberg Television. Film and video credits include executive producer of special venue films, IWERKS Entertainment and Dream Quest Images, The Right Stuff, Mach 1 Adventure, and Space Shuttle America.
BACK ON THE BOARDS
Opening a heavy steel door in the pavement in a secure area near the boardwalk’s north end, Ladyman revealed an underground tunnel running south to the Steam Plant adjacent to the Casino. “That’s how buildings along the boardwalk were originally heated,” he explained. Pointing at Sunset Pavilion, he said, “All the buildings were originally designed with passages under or over the boardwalk because in the early 20th century, people couldn’t be on the boards in bathing suits.
“We’re trying to time the redevelopment to pay homage to the past and be sensitive to today’s residents,” he continued. “We see the entire town. The uplift goes from the downtown to the waterfront, drives visitation, and enhances the experience.” At the Casino, newlyweds posed before murals painted by professional artists, an attraction that began in 2015 as a project called Sea Change: Wooden Walls Art Installation.
“It’s become an institutional icon it’s so Asbury,” Ladyman said. “It was designed to be temporary, but people have fallen in love with the murals. We try to attract different levels of guests of all ages and tastes. That makes visitors come and businesses want to be here, driving a lot of the activity. We are also seeing it in retail, which is up about 5 percent.”
Ladyman added that the small seasonal waterpark on the boardwalk has been “hugely successful,” and hinted that more rides could be coming, an option that seems popular with the public.
“We’re not a mall, we’re a curated experience,” he summed up. “The evolution is to curate offerings to get people to stay and live here. We’ve proved we are in it for the long run. This is the future of Asbury.”