Can He Fix Atlantic City?
Developer Bart Blatstein is betting New Jersey’s troubled gambling
resort is primed for a turnaround. By Ed Condran It’s fittingly overcast moments before Bart Blatstein arrives for lunch at Phillips Seafood at the Playground,
his new incarnation of the former Pier
Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City.
What was once known as America’s
Playground has perhaps hit its nadir.
Atlantic City is running out of money and
faces a possible takeover by the state. Four
of its 12 casinos were shuttered in 2014—
including Revel, a $2.4 billion high-rise
extravaganza that opened in 2012. Annual
casino revenue dropped to $2.6 billion in
2015 from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006.
The city is $240 million in debt.
To Blatstein, it smells like a good time
to buy in.
“This afternoon I was touring the
billion to build a similar property today.
Showboat,” says Blatstein of the shut-
tered casino hotel he scooped up as part
of a buying spree that has made the Phila-
delphia real estate developer a major
investor in Atlantic City’s future. “It was
weird walking around alone there. It was
like The Shining.”
Blatstein, 61, bought the Showboat
from Stockton University in January for
just $23 million. He says it would cost $1
“I’m very pleased with that purchase,”
He got a potentially bigger bargain
in 2014, when his company, the Philly-
based Tower Investments, purchased
the bank-owned Pier Shops for just
$2.7 million. The four-story, nearly
500,000-square-foot pier stretches over
“When I took over the Pier, it was los-
the beach across the Boardwalk from the
giant Caesars casino resort. It too would
cost $1 billion to build today, Blatstein
says. At the time of the sale, the complex
was only 40 percent occupied; Blatstein
claims he doubled that within a year.
ing money year after year,” says Blatstein.
“It was millions of dollars in the red.
Now, it’s significantly in the black.”
Blatstein’s development partner, ar-
chitect Paul Steelman, a Longport native,
is equally bullish on Atlantic City. “The
city is going to turn around, and it needs a
maverick, and that’s what Bart is,” Steel-
man says. “He knows what he’s doing.”
He certainly knows about buying into
a blighted market. Blatstein has made a
fortune investing in depressed areas and
transforming them into choice neighbor-
hoods. “When other investors are run-
ning out,” says Blatstein, “I’m running in.”
When Blatstein first set foot in Phila-
Bart Blatstein surveys
the Atlantic City
scene outside his prize
property, the former
Pier Shops, which he
purchased in 2014
for $2.7 million and
relaunched as the