The owner of the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City is hoping to bring a touch of European flair to the resort town, embracing the water to create a new neighborhood on the Bader Field site complete with its own canal system.
Tower Investments Inc. CEO Bart Blatstein announced a joint venture between his company and Post Brothers Nov. 21 that would establish Casa Mar, a $3 billion development built on 140 acres inclusive of 10,000 residential units; 400,000 square feet of office and retail space; and 20 acres of trails, parks and amenities that are open to the public.
According to the announcement, Bader Field – which closed in 2006 after 96 years in service and holds the distinction of being the first “airport” coined as such – is the last large parcel of undeveloped land in Atlantic City.
“This is a once in a lifetime transformational opportunity for Atlantic City and together Tower and Post will make this happen,” Blatstein said. “The development is a key part of the renaissance of Atlantic City and the highlight of my career. … Our two companies have created billions of dollars of development over the years and currently have joint ventured over a billion dollars in residential development in Philadelphia.”
“We are excited to partner with Tower in developing Casa Mar which will change the paradigm for this city,” said Post Brothers CEO Michael Pestronk. “Together we will develop an epic waterfront community that will set a new standard for living not only in Atlantic City, but in the entire U.S.”
The project plans call for the development to take place over five phases and 12 years.
The partners say that’ll result in the creation of more than 44,000 construction jobs and 8,000 permanent jobs, which would include the training and employment of a “huge” local workforce.
“Atlantic City is the greatest opportunity in America today,” Blatstein said during the press conference, held at the construction site of the $100 million ISLAND Waterpark that is slated to open next year. “Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver are inspiring with their enlightened leadership and also their love and passion for Atlantic City’s future. Our confidence in their leadership propelled this plan.”
But the effort, inspired and modeled after the canals of Venice and Amsterdam, according to the JV, isn’t the only development that’s been drawn to the city-owned site.
Earlier this year, DEEM Enterprises LLC, which said in its proposal it secured a joint venture agreement term sheet with Windmill Development, revealed its own $2.7 billion plan for Renaissance at Bader Field, which is focused around a race track.
According to published reports, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. has said a memorandum of understanding for that effort was imminent.
With sustainability and resiliency identified as guiding principles, Renaissance, whose buildings will aim for LEED Platinum certification, would be centered around a 2.44-mile, members-only driving circuit with 423 “motor-centric” luxury condominiums offering direct access to the course. An additional 250 mid-rise luxury condominiums would be located close to the shoreline and three high-rise towers of varying heights would incorporate 473 high-rise luxury condos as well as a 160-room hotel and a multi-level public retail and commercial concourse.
The project would be rounded out with a mixed-use development surrounding a pedestrian first street with more than 400 market rate and affordable housing units, 230,000 square feet of retail and office space, and a destination motorsports Museum and Education Center. The space would also be available for a higher education institute.
‘Open to the public’
Blatstein says his concern isn’t with the competition, though, it’s focused on the process in general.
“I’m am going for a process, a legitimate, open, transparent, competitive process,” he told NJBIZ. “This is what it’s supposed to be.”
“This is all about what’s best for Atlantic City. Not some private interests,” Blatstein said. “What brings the most jobs, the most tax rateables, the most opportunities — has the best benefits for the city. That’s what this about.”
Blatstein pointed to differences between his JV’s proposal and the one from DEEM.
“Ours is a complete neighborhood, a complete new community. A way to bolster population back in Atlantic City, which is sorely needed,” he said.
“I can’t see it for the life of me, how a race track with very loud race cars is a value add for a community,” he added.
Differences aside, Blatstein says starting a public process is the most important thing. “A legitimate process,” he said. “Everything should be open to the public. The public deserves it. They’re entitled to it.”
And according to Blatstein, the public is responding in kind. He said Casa Mar has received “incredible support,” but regardless of how people feel about the project specifically, they’re on board with opening up the selection effort for what ultimately occupies Bader Field. “It’s how you encourage outside investment to happen,” he said. “Having a closed system discourages outside investment.”
On Nov. 22, Blatstein took his concerns directly to officials, penning a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Small that highlighted efforts at Fort Monmouth, up the shoreline some from A.C., as an example of a redevelopment effort of “magnitude” with a competitive and transparent process.
“Respectfully, this lack of transparency and competitive process certainly is not reflective of the highest standards for openness and public credibility that Gov. Murphy has to his great credit set for his Administration,” Blatstein wrote in the correspondence, shared with NJBIZ.
Tower Investments and Small did not return a request for additional comment by press time.
“I’m not asking for anything special,” Blatstein said. “Yeah. I’m not asking to be considered as a special applicant or person. I’m just asking for openness and transparency.
“And then as far as the competition, bring it on.”