Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Ala Kai Motel acquires neighboring Blue Marlin, Crest properties to be branded under one banner

At the very center of this most eventful offseason in the Wildwoods has been a wave of hotel/motel happenings, highlighted by the completion of a new downtown hotel, several major renovations and a few condo conversions. 

But, wait... there's more!

With Memorial Day Weekend and the unofficial start of a new season on the horizon, an announcement has been made that will impact the future of two “Doo Wop” staples deep in the heart of Wildwood Crest.

Jay Maher, longtime owner of the Ala Kai Motel, has completed a deal to acquire the Blue Marlin Motel, its neighbor directly across the street at Atlantic & Toledo Avenues. After the holiday weekend, the two properties will effectively merge under the Ala Kai name.

“The ability to expand [the Ala Kai brand] and build off of what we have established was there, and I believe the time was right to make that move,” said Maher, who has not yet settled on a new name for the soon-to-be-former Blue Marlin, but confirmed that the two properties will operate under one banner.

“While the Blue Marlin name will be removed and branded under the Ala Kai umbrella, guests staying in the Marlin Building will feel at home with the accommodations they are familiar with. We will officially rebrand just after Memorial Day. 

“We may call the Blue Marlin Building the ‘Ala Kai North’ or ‘The Marlin Building at Ala Kai Resort Motel’ for now. Still working through that, not completely settled on a permanent name yet. But, certainly, the only way to do this is for the entire operation to be branded as one. 

“Two buildings, but one motel. One fluid operation.”

So, what can guests expect with the merger, this season and beyond?

“We’re going to maintain the idea of what has been offered, while striving to continuously improve every aspect of what we do, in the weeks, months and, hopefully, years to come,” said Maher. “Operating two distinct properties as one gives us some unique advantages.”

For one, all guests will have access to both buildings, including the use of two pools. The north-facing Ala Kai gets the early morning sun, while the Blue Marlin building’s southern exposure keeps its pool in the sun all afternoon and into the early evening hours.

Over the past few years, the Ala Kai has offered a weekly “happy hour” (usually on Wednesday afternoons from 4 to 6 pm) for guests, family and friends, which will now be expanded upon. Early and late-season packages including meals and extended checkout times will allow customers to enjoy the Wildwoods and Cape May without the crowds.

“So many of our longtime guests at the Ala Kai have become like family,” said Maher. “We want families who have returned year after year to the Blue Marlin to continue their traditions with us. For me, it’s not just about running a motel business. 

“It’s a labor of love, for sure. It’s a belief in what us locals and people that have deep threads to the Wildwoods, specifically Wildwood Crest, all believe in. And, of course, none of this would be possible without the great and dedicated team that has been part of our business for a very long time. 

Lukasz Stefainski and JoAnn Zamichielli have both been part of our family for two decades, helping manage all aspects of guest relationships. Together, we grow!”

Added Bob Sahasaylo, Executive Director of the Greater Wildwood Hotel/Motel Association: “We’re thrilled to see a classic motel property remain a motel, which is a best-case scenario. The Blue Marlin is in great hands with Jay Maher and his team at the Ala Kai, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds as the two entities operate, and no doubt thrive, as one.” 

The Ala Kai and Blue Marlin both opened in 1963, and are celebrating their 60th anniversaries this summer. 

The Ala Kai is one of the island’s last-remaining and best examples of Polynesian-themed motel architecture. Many of its contemporaries, including the nearby Casa Bahama, Kona Kai and Tahiti motels were lost in the “condo boom” of the early 2000’s.

Maher said that he purchased the Ala Kai around that time, when the motel he and his aunt had previously run, the Frontier, was about to be engulfed by the Coastal Colors complex.

“It’s been in our family ever since, and it’s something we’ve taken great pride in,” he said. “My family lives right around the corner on Hollywood Avenue. Even when I had been living and working full-time in Colorado for about 15 years, my kids were here in the summer and I came back to help the managers run the motel.

“When I started, I thought to myself, I’d love to be able to keep this going until, some day, my kids can push a broom, grow some calluses and learn some business sense, no matter what they end up doing in life. Whether they become lawyers, doctors or major league baseball players, it’s a great starting place to figure things out in life and go on to flap your wings after that.

Matthew, Thomas and Teagan can be found in the pool much of the summer or helping greet guests with their infectious smiles and personalities!”

Several years back, Maher worked with ABS Sign Co. to design the vibrant rooftop neon sign that has become the Ala Kai’s signature, featuring the motel’s name in bamboo-style lettering with a “surfer girl” motif. 

Conversely, the Blue Marlin’s once-prominent neon fell into disrepair some time ago, representative of the motel’s struggles to keep up with the times amid several ownership changes. 

The property will now get a fresh start under Maher’s watch.

“I think there’s opportunity for improvement on what was being offered across the street, reputations that maybe got lost with a couple of different transitions over the past few years,” he said. “What’s done is done. We’re all about the present and looking to the future, continued growth and providing the best experience for our guests as possible.”

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