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Greetings from Asbury Park: An Incredible Town's Comeback Story

Gizem Ozcelik

As a publicist, I’ve told many stories, but none quite like this one. It’s not often that I get to weave together a comeback story – especially one of an iconic American town.

Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore was clinging to a somewhat faded image as a cultural center of the region. Once known for its renowned entertainment venues like The Stone Pony that served as the launchpad for Bruce Springsteen himself, the beach town recently suffered decades of economic decline. People avoided visiting Asbury Park, largely due to safety concerns, and the damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 didn’t help. For years, buildings sat empty, and developers abandoned high-profile projects, leaving acres of vacant land and abandoned, underutilized buildings. For this reason, the community and press were doubtful of the revival story I would tell.

Enter visionary real estate firm iStar. iStar recognized the potential and took on the role of master developer to help restore Asbury Park to its former glory. The company proposed a multibillion-dollar plan with more than 20 hospitality and real estate projects over the next 10 years. First up: the town’s first hotel in 50 years – The Asbury Hotel, designed to galvanize tourism and serve as a beacon for the community. iStar tapped a world-class team for the project, including design legend Anda Andrei and hospitality titan David Bowd, and together they morphed a former Salvation Army building into an exuberant reimagining of classic beach hotels, with rooms, amenities and experiences that reflect Asbury Park’s original rock ‘n’ roll vibe.

The monumental turnaround for Asbury Park isn’t just due to the building of hotels and housing, however. The developer has invested millions in city landscaping and infrastructure throughout the city. The before-and-after shots still blow me away every time. The company has also provided hospitality job training to locals. iStar has made every effort to turn around any negative perceptions of the town – and continues to do so.

Fast forward to today, with the hotel just celebrating its first anniversary with a slew of accolades under its belt: No. 1 hotel by USA TODAY Reader’s Choice and No. 1 on Travel + Leisure’s “It List,” in addition to numerous trade and design awards. Asbury Park as a destination has been named one of Travel + Leisure’s “Best Places to Travel” and more recently “coolest small town” in America by Budget Travel Magazine. These, in addition to the multiple tone-setting features we have secured, rightfully tell the tale of the town’s renaissance. I am proud to say that since August 2015, we have secured a record-breaking 3.4 billion impressions with over 1,000 placements.

Recently, I was able to travel to Las Vegas with the all-star team involved in the development – the developer, creative director, architect and operator – to speak on a panel for Hospitality Design magazine's annual expo held for industry professionals. The magazine asked us to speak to a room of peers in the field about the game-changing project. Sitting up there on the stage looking at the audience of intrigued faces, I realized how much of an integral part I played in the town’s explosion of popularity.

We have solidified it as the hottest year-round destination as thousands of tourists flock to Asbury Park, and the hotel is at full occupancy through shoulder season. We even got the attention of “The Boss.” Bruce Springsteen stopping by The Asbury Hotel a week ago was the icing on my cake.

New development is coming soon. Monroe’s 34 luxurious condominiums have all been sold, and families are moving in soon. I also look forward to the reopening of Asbury Lanes, another iconic music venue, come spring 2018. There is no slowing down for Asbury Park – this was just the first chapter – and I am thrilled to continue telling its story. 

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