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Seaside Heights is trying to change its reality-TV reputation

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Cast of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

SEASIDE HEIGHTS — About 20 years ago, something changed for the worse.

What was once a premiere destination for families along the Jersey Shore became, over time, a borough known for “no rules, no regulations,” according to Mayor Tony Vaz, who’s been battling to return that family-friendly image to the Ocean County borough since entering office in July 2015.

“I’m not a dreamer that thinks this is going to happen overnight,” Vaz told New Jersey 101.5. “This is going to take years, but we’re going in the right direction.”

In a first-of-its-kind move for the borough, employees have been sent to conventions outside the state and outside the country to promote Seaside Heights and reduce any associated stigma, Vaz said. Some workers were sent to Montreal for three days this year to deliver the message.

Christopher and Tony Vaz, Seaside Heights
Seaside Heights Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz (left) with father and Mayor Tony Vaz (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

And what can draw crowds better than free-admission events? A hefty lineup of no-charge activities — some geared toward adults, some toward children — are already scheduled through summer 2017.

Free movies on the beach begin July 4 and run twice a week through August. Vaz said movies will also be shown along the bay, where boaters can watch from the water.

The Jersey Shore Music Festival, scheduled for May 19-21, will feature 350 artists from across the globe at several Seaside Heights locations. Tribute concerts are planned for several Saturdays on the beach, honoring the music of artists such as Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel and Elton John.

And starting July 2, “Family Fun Nights” take over the beach from 6:30 p.m. to dusk, featuring tug-of-war, Frisbee golf and an inflatable obstacle course.

Spurred by complaints from vacationers and residents, Vaz said, recent changes to the borough’s beach rules aim to eliminate some nuisances. Badge attendants and checkers will stay on later to ensure no one’s entering the sand with prohibited items such as alcoholic beverages.

“Not only would they bring liquor; they’d bring barbecues,” Vaz said of folks who’d walk onto the beach once the borough stopped charging each day. “We had a guy with a coffin last year — brought in a coffin full of food and booze.”

While perception of the borough was on a downward spiral for years prior, the premiere of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” did not help Seaside Heights’ image, Vaz said. It promoted the borough globally, but for the wrong reasons.

“I never wanted it,” Vaz said. “The community as a whole didn’t like it.”

The reality show, which followed a group of young adults and their drunken mistakes in Seaside Heights, aired from 2009 to 2012.

A casting call in February of this year, posted on the Facebook page of the popular Bamboo Bar, hinted at another show to be shot within Seaside Heights. It called for “single men and women” who “must be expressive and outgoing.”

According to Vaz, if this developing idea were to become a reality, no filming will be approved on borough-owned property such as streets, sidewalks and the boardwalk.

Council members recently adopted a film ordinance that gives officials more control over what is shot in their borough, Vaz said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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