ack in August I called for Atlantic City to reinvent itself and abandon its reliance on casinos. Atlantic City needs to morph into a vacation town that also offers gambling instead of a gambling town where you can also vacation. Based on the “visions” presented to the Press of AC it would seem that most of the developers feel the same way and are ready to get the ball rolling.
For Atlantic City to end its dependence on gaming it must offer entertainment away from the casinos. One developer and a longtime Atlantic City businessman, Anthony Catanoso of Steel Pier Associates LLC, wants to take what is already a major tourist attraction in Atlantic City, the Steel Pier, and “take it to the next level.”
Catanoso’s vision includes expanding the pier by 30,000 square feet and bringing in an observation wheel that will bring passengers 220 feet off the ground in gondolas.
Despite its proximity to the Boardwalk’s casinos, Catanoso told the Press of AC he felt, “from day one that there was still a family market in Atlantic City.”
Catanoso isn’t the only person trying to rehab the non-gaming offerings in Atlantic City, either. After being wooed by city officials, Tower Investments’ Bart Blatstein bought The Pier Shops in 2014 for $2.5 million – not too shabby considering the original price tag was $200 million.
Blatstein plans to target 25-40 yearolds with his avenue of refurbished retail shops, dining and entertainment options.
Entertainment over gambling
The Tropicana also sees the potential for non-gaming revenue in Atlantic City – although not as family friendly as the Steel Pier or as targeted as The Pier Shops.
Tony Rodio, the CEO of Tropicana stated, “If you look at the properties that are holding on and doing well, it’s the properties that have invested into their facilities and that are trying to create an experience beyond gaming.”
This is something Steve Wynn spoke at great length about during his G2E keynote address, when he explained that non-gaming dwarfs gaming revenue at his properties – properties that he describes as “destination” casinos, and not “regional” casinos.
With less competition (the city is currently down to just seven casinos) the remaining casinos now have the opportunity to make this shift, and focus on being part of a destination vacation – provided the rest of the city complies.
The Tropicana is prepping for $35 million in renovations and upgrades ($18 million of which coming from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority) including a new digital facade that spans the building, and more importantly an overhaul of the back entrance to the Tropicana that will see what is essentially a no-man’s land transformed with the addition of retail spaces and an outdoor seating area.
Interior renovations will also take place on the property. The rooms in Tropicana’s North Tower are set to receive a makeover, as will part of the casino floor. The Tropicana will also add the city’s first public fitness center according to Rodio.
“We have more to offer, more to do, more value, more variety and more fun than any other property in Atlantic City,” Rodio told the Press of AC.
Another unanswered question at this time is what will become of the currently shuttered casinos like the Showboat?
If Herman Saatkamp has a say, it will become the new Atlantic City campus for Richard Stockton College. Last month Stockton signed a letter of intent with Caesars Entertainment to purchase Showboat and make it the focal point of a new campus that could be up and running for fall classes in 2015.
“This is the seventh time I have tried to build a campus in Atlantic City since 2003,” Saatkamp told the Press of AC. “We are out of space,” he says of their current facilities in Galloway Township, “so the opportunity to move and to grow in other areas is really good for us.”
According to Saatkamp the school hired 42 new teachers last year, has 8,700 students, and employs 1,800 people, including 1,200 full-time positions.
It may not be Glenn Straub’s “Tower of Geniuses”, but a college campus would be an excellent way to re-purpose a casino and inject a new, younger, demographic into the area.
The final piece of the puzzle is how to keep these college-educated people in town after graduation, and how to attract the best and brightest to the AC job market.
Wasseem Boraie of Boraie Development LLC, may have the answer, and it may be the piece of the puzzle that ties everything else together in Atlantic City. Boraie plans to build a housing and retail development (aiming for a ideal level between quality and luxury) in the area around the Revel Casino.
However, for Boraie’s ultimate vision to become a reality all of the aforementioned plans will have to come to fruition first.
Boraie told the Press of AC that he feels the rejuvenation of AC (from the Steel Pier to the Pier Shops to Stockton College) will “ignite the second big bang for Atlantic City,” bringing an influx of new, well-compensated, residents into a market that lacks “quality multi-family housing.”
The CRDA will help Boraie get started with a$30 million stipend to build a 250-unit apartment building. From there, the sky is the limit.