Gov. Christie isn't just confident that the Jersey Shore is ready to welcome back visitors to its beaches and businesses, he's sure of it.
At McLoone's Pier House in Long Branch Thursday afternoon, Christie held a round table discussion with several area business owners to listen to their concerns and expectations for the summer, and to ask them to let him know what the state can do to facilitate the coast's continued recovery following Hurricane Sandy.
Despite some lingering issues, the message was largely uniform.
"The good news I heard from them is that they're open for business."
The goal now, Christie said, is to spread that message, to let the shore's visitors know that their favorite summer destination is ready to welcome them for another successful beach season. Things won't be the same, not this year at least, and some towns are further removed from recovery than others, but visitors shouldn't let that be a deterrent when it comes to making their vacation plans.
An ad campaign that will be featured online, on television and in print will emphasize the shore's recovery. The state announced in February its intention to spend more than $25 million on a post-Sandy tourism campaign.
The advertising effort, funded through the $50.7 billion Sandy relief package passed by Congress in January, will come out before Memorial Day and will target major metropolitan areas along the East Coast, Christie said.
He even volunteered to make an appearance in an ad or two if it would help, but said he would let someone else make that determination.
During a press conference that followed his business discussion, Christie provided an update about the Community Development Block Grant program, which will not only help residents rebuild and elevate their homes, but will provide business owners with funding to bridge their recovery efforts.
In all, $500 million of the first round $1.8 billion in CDBG money is dedicated to the state's business owners.
Businesses should be able to apply for grant funding by May 1, Christie said, pending approval of the state's funding plan by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the block grant program.
As soon as that approval comes in, Christie said the state will move towards accepting grant applications.
"The fact is, as we get closer to (Memorial Day), things are going well," he said. "We need to continue that momentum."
The version of the Jersey Shore visitors return to is still somewhat unknown. Towns like Long Branch show little remnants of the damaged caused by Sandy, at least along the beach front properties.
Take a trip down Route 35 and that's hardly the case. Seaside Heights, along with other shore towns, are rebuilding their boardwalks and business, but still, other towns like Mantoloking in Ocean County and Sea Bright in Monmouth County are far removed from recovery.
A lot of that has to do with Sandy's direct impact, but Christie isn't putting all of the blame on the late October superstorm. According to the governor, some of the credit for delayed recovery falls on the lap of the U.S. House of Representatives, who pushed off approving a Sandy relief bill until mid-January.
Following Sandy, Christie said every day Congress delayed in approving a bill would add a day of recovery to the back end. We're seeing that now, he said, as towns rush to recover, some of them still overwhelmed by widespread damage caused by the storm.
Despite the deadline pressure, Christie said the tourism season needn't be put off.
"There will be places that have a difficult time being ready by Memorial Day," he said. "But they will be a stark minority."