By Wendy Saltzman, The Power Media Agency
A stroll down Margate’s Washington Avenue showcases the heart of one of the best places to live down the Jersey shore. This coveted beach town is home to year-round residents, summer homeowners, and vacationers who eat, drink, shop, work, and play in this now bustling shore point.
Flashback 25 years ago and Washington Avenue’s future looked very different. It took the vision and leadership of two local developers to shape the island into the busy hot spot you see today. In the early 80s the building that is now home to Tomatoe’s was deserted and boarded up. Large lots and buildings across Margate and Longport stood vacant and very little real estate on the market was selling. Joe DiLorenzo and Steve Lazovitz took a leap of faith with plans to restore significant projects in the area, two of which lined the Washington Avenue corridor.
“I was down to my last $2500 home equity loan on our house,” said Joe DiLorenzo, a local real estate mogul. “Steve Lazovitz was my partner, mentor, and visionary. Everyone stands on someone’s shoulders to move ahead in life and business. Steve took me from selling houses into the development business.”
You may recognize DiLorenzo’s name from the building that bears his name at 101 N. Washington Avenue. It was one of the team’s first renovation projects together. “We started with bank-owned properties. 101 N. Washington was vacant and owned by a bank,” DiLorenzo explained. And their restoration plans didn’t stop there. ”We purchased 1,000 feet of bayfront property, 14 lots for $900,000 along Amherst Avenue. We also purchased the property directly across from Tomatoes and rehabbed a multi-family residence. Steve was the visionary. I was along for the ride, soaking up everything I could learn.”
Lazovitz had a different approach from many developers in the area. “Steve’s vision was to preserve history and restore instead of tearing down properties, and he wanted to make sure what we built withstands the test of time,” DiLorenzo continued. “He spared no expense and did everything the way it should be done - the right way.” For instance, the Risley’s Cove bayside project was approved for 21 units, but they chose to build only 13 properties to maintain control of the design integrity, including cedar exteriors only and a collaboration with 6 different architects. “That was our largest and most challenging project that laid the groundwork for future residential development,” DiLorenzo explained.
The pair shared the same objective of then-Mayor William Ross and former zoning czar Roger Rubin to turn Washington Avenue into a corridor that would connect the ocean to the bay. Instead of tearing down 101 N Washington Avenue, Lazovitz and DiLorenzo converted the old Seashell Motel into a first-class office building where their business is located to this day. In honor of its 25th anniversary, DiLorenzo is rededicating the building as a tribute to Lozovitz who passed away 5 years ago.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the renovation of their Risley’s Cove project, and the 20th anniversary of the renovation of the Winchester House in Longport where they converted a 19 room, one-hundred-year-old hotel into 4 luxury condos. “As locals, Steve and I have maintained a commitment to our community. Someone had to jump into the deep end, so we did and developed properties that have led the way for further development and the renaissance of Margate specifically,” DiLorenzo said.
DiLorenzo has called Longport home since 1983 and lives the life he sells. In addition to commercial development, he runs DiLorenzo Realty Group, an independent real estate firm that boasts some of the highest home sales from Atlantic City to Longport annually. “We are a small close-knit independent office of locals who are deeply committed to personalized service. I have never believed that bigger is better. Real estate will always be a relationship-driven business,” DiLorenzo said. “My background as a developer and commercial owner allows me to look at real estate from all angles and pass on my expertise with authority.”
DiLorenzo’s experience with development has bolstered his knowledge on the commercial and residential real estate side as well. “You learn what to look for, what to do, and more importantly what not to do. Steve’s philosophy was if you can’t do it right, don’t do it. No compromise.”
As DiLorenzo looks towards the future of Margate, he sees maintaining the quality of life he appreciates daily as the top priority for the community in the years to come. “I never dreamed as a kid growing up in Camden that I would someday have the opportunity to live in a place that I only dreamed about. I never take a walk on the beach for granted.“
DiLorenzo, Lazovitz, and partner Steve Cravitz created SJS Realty Management in 1997. The team currently owns approximately 800,000 square feet of office, commercial and industrial properties in 4 States – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida.