Jersey project design is set

Atlantic City nongambling project design is set


April 19, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

In a plan touted as being as significant for Atlantic City as the Inner Harbor was for Baltimore, the Cordish Co. and the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority agreed yesterday on the design of a $200 million retail and entertainment project to link the resort city's boardwalk, casinos and convention center.

The development will occupy about 25 acres of prime space directly off the Atlantic City Expressway.

"What you have here is world-class gambling and world-class hotels and nothing else for the people to do," said David S. Cordish, president and chairman of the Baltimore-based Cordish Co.

"It is the antithesis of Vegas. What they've learned in gambling is that adding entertainment makes it a full experience, a family experience."

So the goal of the project is to keep visitors in Atlantic City longer by giving them more to do.

"We are extremely excited about the Cordish Co.'s master plan," said Fred Nickles, chairman of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

"The Cordish Co. has the track record, experience and contacts to bring world-class retail and entertainment tenants to Atlantic City.

"This project is critical to Atlantic City's long-term ability to compete as a major resort and gaming destination."

Until recently, such a venture would not have been well received by the casinos, Cordish said. The casinos historically have fiercely protected their turf against potential nongambling competition.

But research has found that visitors typically spend four hours a day gambling, then look for other forms of entertainment, Cordish said.

"They have now learned from Vegas that it doesn't hurt them, it helps them," Cordish said. "People stay over another night. More is more. "

Atlantic City gets about 37 million visitors a year, and they spend more than $4.5 billion on gambling, according to the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

The project is a public-private partnership being financed by the developer and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which receives 2 percent of gambling revenue.

About 25 percent of the money will be public and 75 percent private, according to Joe Weinberg, executive vice president of the Cordish Co.

First phase

The first phase of the project consists of 350,000-square-foot of factory outlet retail, entertainment and restaurant tenants. That phase is slated for completion in spring 2002, Weinberg said. An additional 520,000 square feet containing similar tenants will follow in phase two, to open in spring 2003, he said.

Retailers are very interested in the new venture, according to Cordish.

"The factory-outlet tenants gave us the best response we've ever had to any project in 40 years of development," he said. "Why? Because there are 37 million visitors a year and no stores."

The physical layout of the project will resemble the Cordish plans for the Capital Centre in Landover, where stores in many blocks will face inward creating a Main Street atmosphere. Large steel signs will traverse the project, recreating the signage that once graced the old Steel Pier at Atlantic City.

The project is expected to draw more than 1.5 million visitors and contribute $80 million annually to state and city coffers, according to estimates by the Cordish Co.

An additional $300 million in gaming revenue is expected annually, according to those estimates.

Over the years, other developers have considered projects in Atlantic City and later backed off, including the Rouse Co. and the Mills Corp. 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.

Rouse said at the time that the $175 million available in public funding was not sufficient.

Mills withdrew

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

"When we do this, it's going to remake their image," Cordish said. "I think it's going to be analogous to the Inner Harbor."

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