The transformer Slowly but surely, Curtis Bashaw has helped change Cape May

Developer Curtis Bashaw has spent more than 20 years helping to transform Cape May.

Between restoring inns, creating a business incubator and managing a farm, Bashaw has helped the former whaling town recognized as the country’s oldest seashore resort become a thriving mix of a vintage village and the millennial spirit.

Now, he feels Cape May is ready for the spotlight. Ready to become the Hamptons of New Jersey.

“In this East Coast megalopolis, my feeling is, Cape May’s star is rising,” he said. “I feel like Cape May is on the cusp of sort of rivaling a Nantucket or a Martha’s Vineyard or a Charleston or some of those more nationally known (locations).”

For Bashaw, it’s more than just a feeling. It’s an investment.

He is co-founder and co-managing partner of Cape Resorts Group and Cape Advisories, the companies that develop and operate his various properties based in Cape May, and runs an investment fund — called, simply, The Fund — which has a current market cap of $14 million.

The Fund, which is a combination of his own and other local businesses’ investments, has been used to partner with entrepreneurs in the West End Garage, his incubator space.

Through The Fund, commercial space is purchased and, rather than a traditional landlord-tenant relationship, entrepreneurs are offered low rents in exchange for a small percentage of profits. The town gets new business. Bashaw feels it’s a win for everyone.


Bashaw’s put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is attitude about Shore communities has been well-documented over time.

From his first renovation of The Virginia inn in 1995, to his appointment to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in Atlantic City under Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2005 to his renovation of The Chelsea hotel in A.C. in 2008 and finally the West End Garage in 2011, there appears to be a master plan.

In reality, it’s been just as much an unintended consequence of his success.

WEG was supposed to be a headquarters office space for his companies, but, after the economic slump eight years ago, he and his partner decided the expansion wasn’t needed.

And focusing on the retail experience in Cape May stemmed from an interest in the long-term success of his five local hotels: Congress Hall, The Virginia, Beach Shack, The Star and The Sandpiper Beach Club.

But over the past decade, as many of the small shop owners in the resort failed to transfer ownership to the next, often fourth, generation, Bashaw said he became nervous about what would take the place of the shuttered shops.

“There are two or three people that own multiple properties here that are absentee landlords,” he said. “So they’ll be less sensitive to the historic ambiance to the inside of the store. More often than not, they’ll make it a T-shirt or trinket shop. So, we were noticing a disparity in the quality of the hotel and (bed and breakfast) products, and the retail experience.”

Bashaw doesn’t view himself as a savior. In fact, he credits others before him for helping make Cape May what it is today.

Learning from the town’s history, Bashaw credits the previous generation’s preservation — rather than razing and rebuilding — as a reason for success, along with the changes of current businesses.

That lesson, he said, cannot be lost.

“You can’t ever rest on your laurels; any place that does always gets caught off guard,” Bashaw said, recapping the history of the resort from the late 1800s to the rise of the Wildwoods to Atlantic City’s gaming era.

“In the late 1800s, Cape May was the queen of seaside resorts; people were making money hand over fist. They didn’t pay attention to what was happening in the world.”

Since then, Bashaw said Atlantic City had its surge in popularity, as did the Wildwoods, with their motel boom.

“Who would’ve thought, 80 years ago, that Atlantic City would be a wasteland?” Bashaw asked.


Bashaw doesn’t feel like Cape May has been affected by the downturn in gaming.

If anything, tough times have been a bit of a help, as there has been more of a trend toward staycations since 9/11 and the financial crisis.

“We’re the alternate charming town to the big city,” he said.

Tracking ZIP codes from customers backs that up. Bashaw said more than 50 percent of his guests come from New York City, southeastern Connecticut, Long Island and North Jersey. He said he also has a considerable volume of guests from the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area, followed by a “smattering” of guests from the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Societal shifts have helped, too.

Bashaw has noticed that, as families have become less nuclear, Cape May has become more of a traditional holiday spot.

He said that, while the resort used to be a summer family spot and non-summer romantic weekend getaway, it has now seen a resurgence of families for the holidays. Which is why Bashaw feels an urban vibe for Cape May area, while still preserving its historic, vintage feel, is the key to success.

It’s not a hard sell to get entrepreneurs, Bashaw said.

“I think a lot of these big cities are priced out,” he said, pointing to the Cape May Brewing Co., run by a former New Yorker, which is now exporting its wares.

But he has also actively sought to introduce students at the local high school to the idea of owning a small business. His Beach Plum Farm is used to host networking events for the community and students.

And this is just one of many new uses Bashaw has found for the farm.

He conceived a farm-to-table idea before it was a buzzword, and just this month extended the idea to a prix-fixe dinner and tour for guests of his inns.

The idea was based off of reclaiming the Garden State’s South Jersey history, Bashaw said, as he recalled how Campbell Soup Company chose New Jersey for its tomatoes, back when South Jersey was all farming. Over time, that got supplanted and smaller family farms went out of vogue, but soon corporate farms in Iowa became more expensive than land in South Jersey.

“The trend of people being more aware of where their food comes from and wanting to be close (to home for vacation is great for us),” he said. “We’re one gas tank away from the East Coast megalopolis, which has 25 percent of the U.S. population.

“I think this farmland has got some promise,” he said of the Beach Plum Farm, which is roughly two miles away from the town center.

It began as a source of produce for restaurants near his inns in the resort: The Ebbitt Room in downtown Cape May, Blue Pig Tavern at the Congress Hall inn and Rusty Nail at the Beach Shack. 

He hopes to inspire a new generation to carry the torch moving forward.

“Change is going to happen, it’s all about,” he said. “You can stand on the sidelines and watch change happen, or you can make change.”

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Tropicana’s big-money bet Casino feels it’s positioned for future of the industry after 90M in renovations

This summer, the Tropicana in Atlantic City completed a $40 million renovation project that included updated hotel rooms, another property entrance, a high-limit slots area and a number of added new features, from a luxury hair salon to a premier nightclub.

The upgrades came a year or so after the resort completed a $50 million renovation that featured a modernization of the casino floor, more hotel room updates, a new fitness center and the creation of a multimedia light and sound show on its boardwalk façade.

Who says Atlantic City is crumbling?

At a time when five casinos have closed in less than three years, the Tropicana’s yearly investments back into its own property appear to be an anomaly.

Or a business success story — at least, that’s how Tropicana CEO and President Tony Rodio sees it.

“We are financially successful, strong and continuing to grow,” he said.

Indeed, the Tropicana, like other remaining properties in the city, has seen its market share grow with less saturation. But Rodio also attests the success of the resort to its commitment to business and the age-old adage about spending money to make money.

“We think it’s critical to make sure that we focus on all three elements,” Rodio said. “The employees, the customers and the building.”

Don’t be confused. Rodio is cognizant of the world around him.

Just south of the building is the former Atlantic Club, closed since January 2014. A few blocks north is the former Trump Plaza, visibly in a state of disrepair since it closed in September 2014.

As light and bright as the Tropicana’s new boardwalk shows may be, Rodio knows the city’s challenges are an obstacle.

“It really is difficult, firstly because you have to overcome a negative perception that the general public has about Atlantic City,” he said. “They hear about the city’s financial issues and the potential for the city to go into bankruptcy, or the potential for the state to take over the city. They see all these closures, and then there’s parts of the city that are rundown and blighted.

“But we’re an oasis in the middle of all of that.”


Out on the casino floor, Tropicana General Manager Steve Callender says the changes have boosted morale and reinvigorated employees.

“We have 30-year employees that have been become engaged by what we’ve been doing, “ he said. “They’ve got a new energy about them when we started to redo this casino floor, and they really appreciate it. They get to work more hours; their tips go up. The customers are loving it; they’re engaged with it, as well.”

The success hasn’t exactly come from a secret sauce, either.

Back in 2013, Resorts cut the ribbon on its $35 million Margaritaville-themed expansion and renovation project. In August, figures from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement showed that Resorts saw its gross profits rise by 26 percent over the first half of this year, compared with last year.

That same report showed a 25 percent spike in gross profits for Tropicana over that time period.

“The people that are investing money in their property are seeing a return for it,” Callender added. “Now that we have the right amount of casinos, you can feel comfortable about investing in your property … especially if you do it right.”

Rodio said it’s not just how Tropicana is spending its reinvestment dollars but, rather, what it’s investing in.

Diversification, he said, is key. With a number of changing market elements, the city’s casinos need to continue to offer a wide range of activities that might not center around or have anything to do with traditional gaming.

While that’s certainly a buzzword these days in Atlantic City, Tropicana has long kept that in mind with its boasting of its IMAX theater and array of nightlife and dining options in the “Quarter” section of its resort. But the recent renovations have doubled down on those amenities, with the additions of Ivan Kane’s Kiss Kiss A Go-Go nightclub and a number of eateries, including new restaurants expected early next year from popular Philadelphia-area Iron Chef Jose Garces.

It is part of a larger strategy to attract millennials, who Rodio said are often “focused more on non-gaming attractions that get them to the property.”

“I think it’s even more important as we look to the future,” Rodio said. “You read so much about the millennials and they’re going to be the economic engine that’s driving the economy in the next 10 to 15 years as they gradually become more and more of an economic force.”


Regardless of the confidence Tropicana is currently exuding, there is still a lot of uncertainty across the city.

First, there’s the Trump Taj Mahal, managed by Tropicana Entertainment and owned by Icahn Enterprises, which closed its doors earlier this month amid poor performance and a labor dispute with the local casino workers’ union.

Rodio has largely been in the news lately responding to what will happen at the Taj, but that property’s future is still very much up in the air, with rumors of all sorts continuing to percolate.

That’s also being fueled by an ongoing effort in the state Legislature to effectively block the Taj from holding onto its gaming license. That situation is uncertain.

There’s also the upcoming northern New Jersey casino expansion referendum that voters will consider Nov. 8. While recent polls show that the ballot question might lack the support it needs to pass, nothing is, of course, for certain.

Atlantic City’s gaming market is still eagerly awaiting its fate.

Rodio says that, ultimately, if there aren’t new casinos coming soon to northern New Jersey, he expects to see “some additional properties coming online or reopening” in the next couple of years in Atlantic City as market confidence builds.

Even if it fails, Rodio said he expects legislators to try again. That’s why he’s hoping for a grand defeat.

“I’m hoping that it fails by a pretty wide margin to send a message to Trenton,” he said.

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