Many local residents and visitors take the opportunity to walk,...

Many local residents and visitors take the opportunity to walk, run and bike along the new Long Beach boardwalk after a completed section opened Saturday. (July 27, 2013) Credit: Johnny Milano

Thousands flocked Saturday to the first completed section of Long Beach's new $44.2 million boardwalk, nine months after superstorm Sandy destroyed the iconic city landmark.

"This is the spirit of Long Beach," City Council President Scott Mandel said about the finished nearly half-mile. "We have reached a milestone."

The morning began with ribbon-cutting ceremonies at five entrances along a four-block section of the walkway between Long Beach and Magnolia boulevards. Soon after, many local residents and visitors walked, ran or biked along the new boardwalk.

"This is an incredible day at Long Beach," said City Manager Jack Schnirman, adding the completion of the opened section met the 100-day contractual deadline with the builder. "The community is passionate about the recovery and restoring this community staple. It provides a sense of comfort and normalcy."

Matt Schaner, 27, of Long Beach, clapped with delight when he stepped onto the elevated walkway. "This is incredibly exciting," said Schaner, accompanied by his friend Bree Richter, 22, of Manhattan. "It felt like we were missing something from this town. It is great to have it back. It was worth the nine-month wait."

The new structure, made of concrete and Brazilian hardwood, is expected to last 30 to 40 years, compared to the three to five years of the yellow pine in the old boardwalk. The city added LED energy-efficient lighting and Wi-Fi access along the boardwalk and beach.

The old benches will be refurbished and reinstalled, and new light poles will mimic their predecessors, city officials said.

"It's a very big deal that the boardwalk is open," said Larry Moriarty, 43, of Long Beach, who was biking on the walkway, adding he has logged more than 5,000 miles running on the boardwalk since 2006. "It is a meeting place and a fun place."

The city has spent about $2.7 million so far to replace the century-old boardwalk that had collapsed in several spots, making it unsafe and unviable. The contract between the city and Plainview-based Grace Industries calls for the firm to complete the entire 2.2-mile structure by Nov. 12, officials said.

"There was a lot of damage done to the town, and to see the boardwalk rebuilt three times better, it makes me feel like we're prepared for anything," said Nancy Servellon, 45, of Long Beach, who enjoyed a morning walk with her husband, Jose, 46. "Little by little we are coming back to normal."

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