Rouse rolls the dice by the sea

November 05, 1993

Now it's the Rouse Co.'s turn to try to breathe some life into moribund sections of Atlantic City. The Columbia-based firm has been chosen to redevelop a five-block strip connecting Boardwalk casinos with a planned convention center. This is part of a $520 million undertaking to create a resort-tourist-convention town that will offer visitors more than just 13 casinos.

Fifteen years after casino gambling was legalized, Atlantic City is still awaiting a payoff. Until recently, casinos used a loophole to avoid making the kinds of community investments that had been required in the casino law. Redevelopment plans were further stalled by a divided city government beset with corruption and indictments of mayors and council members.

But that has changed. A reform mayor, James Whelan, cleaned up local government and struck a deal with New Jersey officials to get redevelopment back on track. Baltimore's RTKL was hired last year to draw up an urban plan connecting the casino district along the Boardwalk with a proposed quarter-billion-dollar convention center five blocks away near the Amtrak station.

Now the Rouse Co. has been picked to work some of its proven magic. The idea is to turn this corridor into an entertainment boulevard. This mixed-use development will include a 1,000-room convention hotel, a multimedia entertainment center, restaurants and local and national retail stores. The goal is to create an attraction for families and non-gambling tourists.

If any company can pull it off, it's the Rouse Co. Its credits include the success stories of Baltimore's Harborplace, Boston's Faneuil Hall, New York's South Street Seaport, Atlanta's Underground and similar complexes in other major cities. The firm is nationally recognized for its ability to take a run-down area and turn it into a star attraction.

Atlantic City needs a boost. Except for the Boardwalk and marina casinos, the town is a sea of poverty and deterioration. The casinos employ 50,000 people, but most of them commute from the suburbs. Day-trippers come by the thousands to gamble, but spend their money only in the casino district. Few benefits from the advent of gambling have been seen in the run-down neighborhoods removed from the neon lights.

Developing a vibrant festival of activities for a wide variety of visitors is the Rouse Co.'s strong suit. That's exactly what Atlantic City needs. It could prove an ideal marriage.

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