As it turns out, the $100 million indoor water park that Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein is pursuing at a former Atlantic City casino was just the start of his efforts to bring family entertainment to the Showboat hotel.
Blatstein has a boatload of other entertainment attractions on the horizon, including a retractable domed outdoor concert hall that can fit 8,000 fans; what he says will be New Jersey's largest arcade; an outdoor beer garden, and an extension of the Boardwalk to create a sun deck near the sand dunes.
It will add at least $29 million to the amount he plans for the Showboat, which ceased to operate as a casino in 2014.
And amid all this, he resolutely refuses to say if he's still pursuing an effort launched several years ago to return casino gambling to the Showboat — although the new indoor attractions take up all the space that once was filled with slot machines and gambling tables.
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“We're going to be the first true year-round family resort in Atlantic City," Blatstein said. "It makes sense to bring all these things together in one spot so that people have a place to go if they're not just interested in gambling.”
Mayor Marty Small praised the emphasis on family entertainment, and said Blatstein's plans “will surely be a game-changer for Atlantic City.”
Atlantic City has long defined itself as an adult playground. And even though there are attractions including a giant Ferris wheel and an aquarium, families have long complained that there is little do do in the resort beyond gambling and enjoying nightlife, particularly during the eight or nine months a year when the beach is not an option.
Although he has successfully developed numerous projects in Philadelphia, not everything Blatstein touches has turned to gold. His purchase and renovation of the former Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City into an entertainment-shopping facility called The Playground fizzled; he eventually sold it back to Caesars Entertainment, he said, in order to fully concentrate on the Showboat.
Tuesday afternoon, a state agency, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, approved indoor and outdoor entertainment plans for the Showboat. They are separate from the $100 million water park at the site which the agency approved for a tax incentive plan last December.
The CRDA approved designation of the water park project as an entertainment retail district, which entitles it to an annual rebate of up to $2.5 million in sales tax generated by it for 20 years. There also will be tax breaks on construction materials used for the project.
Blatstein said he hopes to break ground on the water park by the end of May.
Other aspects of the plans are on a similarly ambitious schedule: he says the indoor arcade, to be named “Lucky Snake,” will open on May 15. On Wednesday, workers were still putting the finishing touches on machines including basketball hoops; Skee-Ball, miniature golf, and an array of boardwalk-style games including water gun races, claw or crane games, and oversized video games like Pac-Man.
The concert arena will be called “The Dome," and will feature a retractable roof and sides; in the winter or during inclement weather, it will be totally enclosed. But in the summer it can be opened on the top and on both sides to let the sun and the ocean air inside. It will be built next to the Showboat hotel, on land that is now a parking lot.
Just east of the dome, on sandy ground that most recently was used as volleyball courts, will be a beer garden called “The Beach Club.”
And pending approvals from numerous governmental agencies, the Boardwalk would be extended eastward to the edge of the sand dunes to create a sun deck.
The Dome, the beer garden and the deck should all be open by summer 2022, Blatstein said.