Posted: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 12:01 am
Many people pin their hope for revitalizing Atlantic City on big plans for some of the closed casino hotels or expensive government enticements to companies to do something “game changing” in the city.
Well, when a city turns around in a genuine and lasting way, it is usually from the accumulating difference made by smaller, quality projects – almost always by private developers who see an opportunity.
One that fits the bill is a $5 million retail development along a stretch of Atlantic City Boardwalk by BET Investments Inc. The complex will create 16 stores with a total of 16,000 square feet on open ground at Florida Avenue near Boardwalk Hall.
Much has changed in the 16 years since the Trump World’s Fair Casino was closed and demolished on the site, including operator Donald Trump exiting his Atlantic City businesses and now running for the Republican presidential nomination. Plans for other casino hotels have fallen through and existing casinos have closed, but at the same time Tanger Outlets The Walk has shown that well-done retail can be a strong component of the city’s offerings.
That’s one reason BET principal Bruce E. Toll changed the project intended for the property he bought for $25 million in a 2005 bankruptcy auction.
Another is that Toll, a co-founder of luxury homebuilding company Toll Brothers Inc., realized his initially anticipated upscale condominium residence would be entering a weakening city housing market by the time it was completed.
The BET project’s modern, quality retail space will be a significant upgrade for a key part of the Boardwalk. It’s the best retail news for that underutilized feature of the city since Siganos Boardwalk Properties redeveloped the 1700 block of stores in 2003 (that were then nearly destroyed by would-be casino developer Pinnacle Entertainment, which subsequently abandoned its plans and left town).
The new stores will be well positioned to draw shoppers from events at Boardwalk Hall and from customers at the other big new development on the boards this year, Bart Blatstein’s The Playground on the pier across from Caesars Atlantic City. As a waterpark or other new family entertainments also are added, the pool of shoppers will keep increasing.
Some owners and operators of existing Boardwalk stores naturally are worried about the increased competition from the BET stores. No doubt the new stores will be more appealing than many current shops, but if that encourages others on the Boardwalk to improve the appearance and offerings of their establishments, that’s a good thing.
The BET stores, though, are very likely to benefit other Boardwalk businesses by drawing more and higher-spending customers. They could even serve as a catalyst for further investment as others see the increased business opportunity, and help push the zone into a period of improvement.
That’s how economic growth works. The retail project is also already consistent with some of the recommendations in the upcoming report on Atlantic County economic development from AngelouEconomics. Angelos Angelou, its principal executive officer, said the area’s small population base and large percentage of unskilled workers make multiple smaller employers and projects more likely to make a difference than attempting to lure a major corporation.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk for decades was the must-see place in the city, crowded and thriving. It will take time and more projects, but it could be so again.