Luxury resort brand Icona, which has been expanding rapidly along the Jersey Shore, could develop a boutique hotel in Ocean City with a pending $6.5 million deal to buy a historic former bank building in the heart of the downtown shopping area.

The owner of the seven-story building at 801 Asbury Ave. filed for bankruptcy in May 2021 and the bank has been on the market as part of those proceedings, according to court records.

Although Ocean City officials have expressed interest in the site, legal filings indicate the city has been unable to compete with Icona’s offer. Barring any surprises, the sale is expected to be complete by year’s end, officials said.

“Any other interested party can come in and object,” said attorney Brian Thomas, appointed trustee of the property. But, he said, “if things go smoothly, there will be an order and subsequent to that, a closing set up.”

In addition to the former bank building, records show the pending agreement with Icona includes purchase of a former warehouse property turned commercial lease space at 176 Route 50 in Estell Manor, a small town in Atlantic County. That property has the same owner as the bank building.

Representatives for Icona did not respond to requests for comment.

The seven-story building at the corner of Eighth Street and Asbury Avenue was built in 1925, Thomas said. Its first floor previously housed The First National Bank of Ocean City and later, Crown Bank. The building also comes with parking lots off Central Avenue, diagonal from the city’s municipal court and police station.

The nearly century-old structure is mostly vacant, with a small number of tenants remaining on various floors — among them is Second Chance Boutique, a second-hand shop operated by Cornerstone Community Church, and Sample Media Inc., which owns the local Ocean City Sentinel.

When the building’s owner, 801 Asbury Associates LLC, filed for bankruptcy last year, Thomas was appointed to oversee the building’s sale.

Thomas retained a broker to help market the property and Icona’s offer was the highest, according to court records.

“The trustee believes it is highly unlikely a better offer will be made at the auction or otherwise,” records show. “The alternative to not approving this sale is either moving forward with the auction which may or may not provide a higher price but may result in lower proceeds to the estate…or abandonment of the properties, neither of which is a better outcome for the estate.”

Ocean City officials remain interested in the historic bank building, Ocean City spokesman Doug Bergen said, but noted “we have no basis for an objection in the bankruptcy case.”

Bergen cited the prime location for the building and the parking lots.

“They’re in the heart of our downtown,” said Bergen.

Icona still needs approval from federal bankruptcy court Judge Andrew Altenburg in Camden. A hearing on the proposal is planned for 10 a.m. Dec. 13, according to court documents.

If the sale goes through, Icona would still need to obtain zoning approval, given that hotels are not a permitted use in Ocean City’s central business zone.

Ocean City currently has 26 hotel and motels with 631 rooms, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Some properties, such as the historic Flanders Hotel, include condominium units that are required to be offered as hotel rooms for part of the year. Including those rooms, the number of available hotel/motel units in Ocean City is estimated at 1,194.

Since Ocean City is a dry town, the hotel proposed by Icona would be without alcohol sales.

Icona President Eustace Mita told The Press of Atlantic City that his longtime ties to Ocean City weighed in the decision to invest in the town.

Icona has become a major player in Cape May County’s shore towns with eight beachfront properties in Cape May, the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township, Avalon and Wildwood Crest, along with a property in Spring Lake in Monmouth County.

Icona has another major development pending. The company announced plans to spend $150 million to build a 5-star, 160-room hotel on Beach Avenue in Cape May, on the site of a former 1950s Beach Theater. If approved, it would be the first new hotel built in historic Cape May in 50 years.

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Jackie Roman may be reached at [email protected].

By Amalia