Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein is spending his Halloween in two ways. As the new president of the Friends of Rittenhouse Square, he’s hosting the “Little Friends” Halloween Parade.
As the developer who all-but-created Northern Liberties — in the past with his famous remake/remodel of the 28-acre Schmidt’s Brewing complex for his retail, restaurant, and apartment Piazza; in the present with his upcoming Piazza Terminal — Blatstein is currently tending to his 2016 purchase: Atlantic City’s Showboat Hotel and Casino.
While he renovated and reopened the Showboat that same year as a non-casino hotel, he’s now looking to convert one of its three towers into an apartment building. Blatstein’s hopefully soon-to-open apartment complex, in the 20-story tower nearest Pacific Avenue, will hold 264 units (a combo of studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments) according to his application presented at last week’s hearing with the land use department of NJ’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, This would leave the Showboat with 1,000 hotel rooms. “The hearing went well, and the CRDA is very receptive to investment in Atlantic City, especially non-gaming,” he said.
Blatstein’s Showboat might not be a casino (yet), but he is gambling on Atlantic City’s need for contemporary housing, much in the same fashion as he did with Northern Liberties — place much-needed light where once was darkness and blight. “I saw no reason why Atlantic City couldn’t be great,” said Blatstein, who began his AC buying spree with the Garden Pier and his conversion of the Piers at Caesars into his Playground, which currently houses the One Atlantic event space and Stephen Starr’s AC outlets of Buddakan and Continental. He owns non-deed restricted land on the Boardwalk between Showboat and the new Ocean Resort Casino. Blatstein gambled that Atlantic City could be great beyond its casinos. And why not? “It’s within a tankful of gas away from 30 percent of the nation’s population. It’s faster to get to AC from Manhattan than it is the Hamptons, and an hour away for Philly people. It’s got an ocean, a boardwalk, an airport, and — though a small town of 39,000 people – an infrastructure of a large city.”
Blatstein is not prepared to say anything about his Garden Pier or Caesars Pier purchases. Same with his recent request to NJ’s Division of Gaming Enforcement for a statement of compliance demonstrating that he holds a property that could be used as a casino within a three year period, be it at the Showboat or someplace else. “I am currently going through a process to be licensed — for me to be licensed,” is all he can say on that matter at the moment. Blatstein famously already went through this process (“and was licensed”) in Pennsylvania when he sought to open a Philly casino.
Blatstein is a good thing for Atlantic City
For now, Blatstein is Showboat-ing.
“I amassed a lot of real estate around the Showboat, including the Showboat,” he said. “That area, the South inlet, used to be a bustling, mixed-use neighborhood, residential and commercial. I used to go to Captain Starn’s (a restaurant with boat rides and attractions like seal feeding).as a kid. It’s a great area. When I got the Showboat, I remembered that, and realized that it allowed for diversity of uses. Its three towers are spread out. I can build retail there, and apartments going for market rate. It’s walkable there, unlike other parts of AC where casinos back up to the side-streets and, now are just back ends of the casinos, the service parts. The South inlet where I’m at with Showboat can be a walkable community.”
The last time Blatstein used the word “community” was when he was starting his Piazza at Schmidt’s project in 2000. “You are correct. My goal there was to create a walkable community.” Blatstein can go and do as large in AC as he did in NoLibs as the landmass is similarly sized, around 30 acres. Showboat is also close to all mass transit: jitneys, busses and the train station/bus terminal. “The challenge is always of highest and best use. It took me a minute to get my sea legs, to get the ebb-and-flow of AC, the opportunities that exist. This area is urban, remarkable, and with a $3billion anchor I have 8,000 employees within blocks of me here,. I’m building a 14,000 square foot, state-of-the-art fitness facility and a co-workspace to go with the apartments that should be read for summer,” he said. “There’s 4, 350 parking spaces. I’m building in services, and building up the area as there’s little there now. I’m just trying to figure what additional services we can use — just as with Northern Liberties.”