N.J. shore project goes to Cordish

Power Plant developer is chosen to work on Atlantic City site

Cost could be $200 million

Project's 15 acres lie between casinos, convention center

August 19, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

In the latest effort to attract more visitors and stem a tide of deterioration in Atlantic City, a New Jersey commission tapped the Cordish Co. yesterday to develop a largely barren 15-acre site connecting the resort town's boardwalk and casinos to its $254 million convention center.

In hiring Cordish, the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is hoping the Baltimore development company can achieve the same results as it has at the Power Plant at the Inner Harbor and in Houston and Charleston, S.C.

Cordish intends to develop an entertainment and retail project on what is currently two surface parking lots and a number of vacant structures, although no tenants have been signed.

The redevelopment could cost as much as $200 million.

"Cordish has a range of talent, the firm has dealt with numerous municipalities in the past, and they are a firm that all the projects it has started it has finished," said Frances Santoro, the authority's director of economic development.

"This is a key piece [of property] and we believe the time is right. [Cordish Co. Chairman] David Cordish has a proven track record of bringing projects like this to fruition."

But in developing a master plan for the 15 acres, Cordish will have to contend with the past. Other qualified and successful developers -- including the Rouse Co. and the Mills Corp. -- have considered projects in Atlantic City and later backed off.

Columbia-based Rouse was chosen to develop the site in October 1993, but withdrew from the project two years later because it wanted to develop a slightly different area than the authority had planned.

Funds held insufficient

Rouse also said at the time that it felt the public funding available -- $175 million -- was insufficient.

Mills of Arlington, Va., pulled out of the project because it was unable to commit to an authority schedule that called for completing an initial phase of the project within three years.

Cordish will also have to tread lightly with the casinos, which have fiercely protected their turf against potential competition and venues of a nongambling nature.

But both Santoro and Cordish spokeswoman Allison Parker said the company is optimistic in part because gaming companies have witnessed a resurgence in Las Vegas thanks to such noncasino attractions as shopping malls and roller coasters.

Record tourist dollars

As a result, record numbers of visitors are spending record tourist dollars there.

"We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Atlantic City," Cordish said. "The development site is situated perfectly to what are the main attractions of this year-round destination."

The company expects to have a feasibility analysis for the site completed in three months.

The authority has pledged $250,000 to help complete the study, Parker said.

Cordish isn't the only one who believes times may be changing in Atlantic City, which attracts 37 million visitors a year.

`An opportunity'

"There's an opportunity there, and Atlantic City needs to broaden its offerings," said Robert Minutoli, a Rouse senior vice president.

"If they can fashion a consensus, they'll have a significant chance of success. I think the timing for that just wasn't right when we were there."

Cordish has a history of turning the straw others have worked with into gold.

In Baltimore, Six Flags Corp. bailed out of the Power Plant after its adult theme park faltered. Cordish converted the project into retail and office space featuring Hard Rock Cafe and ESPN Zone restaurants.

Star Wars creator George Lucas' development group was unable to pull together a deal to revitalize an old Houston convention center. Cordish turned the site into an entertainment complex called Bayou Place, where it is about to start on a second phase.

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