SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. – The boardwalk where generations of families and teens got their first taste of the Jersey Shore and where the MTV reality show of the same name was filmed is about to be rebuilt following its destruction in Superstorm Sandy.
Seaside Heights on Wednesday night awarded a $3.6 million contract to have the boardwalk rebuilt in time for Memorial Day weekend.
The walkway, one of the most popular and heavily used at the Jersey Shore, was destroyed in the late October storm, the state's worst natural disaster. Officials say it is the centerpiece of the borough's tourism industry, which funds 75 percent of its budget.
"A lot of people love Seaside and want to see what's happening this year," Mayor William Akers said. "If they don't come back, we don't eat."
Florence Birban, a 47-year resident, said the boardwalk means a lot to homeowners.
"We need a boardwalk here to bring in the revenue and keep our taxes from going up, hopefully," she said. "It just looks wrong without a boardwalk. I look up the street, and I don't see one, and it's not right."
The work should be done by May 10.
Seaside Heights was famous for generations as a summer destination for families, teens and young adults. It took on a new level of fame in recent years when MTV set its "Jersey Shore" reality show on the boardwalk, where a tipsy Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi tottered unsteadily and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino flexed his abs as cameras whirred.
The contract approved Wednesday just covers replacement of the boards and the substructure beneath it. Akers said a future contract will include ramps, railings and a protective sea wall.
Borough Administrator John Camera said the entire length of the mile-long boardwalk will be rebuilt.
That was good news for Sue Poane, another longtime resident concerned about the town's financial future and its quality of life.
"We need the people to spend their money here; we need the boardwalk back for the businesses," she said. "My husband and I walk the boardwalk every Sunday afternoon. We have our supper at our special place -- they have the best seafood in the world! -- and then we sit and people-watch."
Seaside Heights is the second major boardwalk to see rebuilding begin; Belmar started work on its walkway last week. Spring Lake also has started fixing its boardwalk, as has Point Pleasant Beach.
On Thursday in Seaside Heights, the private owners of the Jet Star roller coaster plan to solicit bids from companies interested in removing the remains from the Atlantic Ocean, Akers said. They have been there since the roller coaster plunged off a collapsing pier during the storm.
Town officials are anxious to have it removed. Last week, a man sailed a small boat to the coaster, climbed to the top of it and affixed a flag to it before being talked down and arrested by police. Officials and some residents are worried about liability for the coaster if someone is injured on or near it. The beachfront remains off-limits and is guarded by police and state troopers.