Restaurant in Delaware Seashore State Park Causing Commercializa - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Restaurant in Delaware Seashore State Park Causing Commercialization Concerns

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SUSSEX COUNTY, Del.- As construction is underway for a new restaurant in Delaware Seashore State Park, some fear it's the first step in commercializing the area.

The Big Chill Beach Club is a public-private partnership between La Vida Hospitality Group and Delaware State Parks. The club is being built on top of the park's existing bath house on the South Inlet stretch of the park, and will include a bar/restaurant area and a tent that can be used for parties. Josh Grapski, a managing partner at La Vida Hospitality Group, says they also hope to provide beach games and host events like festivals in the off-season, driving even more traffic to the park.

'The more things we can do that can add lifestyle elements to the area are benefits for the locals and people visiting,"  he says.

When complete, the club's uppermost portion will have 360 degree views of the bay, inlet and ocean. Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens says the partnership was created as a way to increase revenue for the park, as the state faces a budget deficit.

"We're not putting any money into the project," he tells WBOC. "We'll of course see revenue in two ways: we'll see a percentage of the restaurant and then for everyone that pays to come into the park, we also collect an entrance fee."

Bivens says the project's impact will be minimal, as the parking lot normally is empty by 4 or 5 pm, and it's being built on existing facilities. Additionally, Bivens says it was developed in response to complaints that there were not enough food options in the area.

"This isn't something we would do at every single one of our parks, but this was kind of a unique situation because it was solving a problem that we had," he says. "It's kind of a small city during the summer there at Delaware Seashore with over 300 camp sites and cottages. We want to have stuff that people can walk to or bike to. So we really see this on a customer service side."

John Doerfler is the chair of the Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. He says the group has absolutely no problem with the club, calling La Vida great community partners and saying DNREC was well within their rights to approve the project, but they are concerned there may be future projects.

"DNREC is putting up a lease for property that sits right at ground zero of rising sea levels and that gobbles up our coast line," he says. "Our issue isn't necessarily with the restaurant, it’s what’s the next thing going to be?"

Doerfler says at the chapter's monthly meeting Tuesday night, they want to discuss a plan of action on how to help better fund state parks.

"We want to be an advocate for the park so they can get more money that they need," he tells WBOC. "What can we do as an organization to get better funding to the park so there's not these controversial things?"

Grapski says they plan to open the Big Chill Beach Club by Memorial Day weekend.

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